NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames head coach John Barata admits there aren’t many positives to falling behind early in a tournament game, but there was one thing the Tigers learned about themselves on Sunday afternoon.
“It showed our ability to come back,” Barata said.
The fourth-seeded Tigers fell behind twice in the opening half against visiting Greater New Bedford but answered each time, and then some, on their way to a dominant 6-2 win over the 13th-seeded Bears.
“If it happens again, we won’t be panicked,” Barata said of the lesson learned from the win. “Ideally, we won’t want to go down but if we are, it was good it was early in the game because you have plenty of time and you don’t have to change your plan. We didn’t change our game plan.”
The visitors stunned the Tigers by taking the lead less than three minutes into the game. A long ball over the top from GNBVT defender Alexander Vieira Silva Macedo fell in behind the OA defense, drawing the keeper off the line. Landon Amaral won the race to the ball though, nodding a header past the keeper and into the open net.
But as Barata noted, the Tigers didn’t change their plan and their offense answered. The hosts knocked on the door plenty of times before breaking through. Kevin Louhis forced the keeper into a terrific diving game in the 5th minute, and Colin Milliken had his curling shot handled in the 7th minute.
The pressure paid off in the 16th minute as Milliken intercepted a pass from the Bears just over midfield. After a touch forward, the junior midfielder played a perfect through ball between the GNBVT defense that Louhis to run onto and finished at the far post to make it 1-1.
Despite the hosts having the majority of play, the Bears took another lead. Another ball over the top found space in behind the defense, Amaral took the service down and tucked in a low shot to put GNBVT back in front, up 2-1 in the 24th minute.
“We got a little panicky early and we didn’t play our brand,” Barata said. “Credit to [Greater New Bedford], they came prepared to play that long ball. They didn’t have a lot of shots, they used that long ball. Once we tightened up the backline, everything was better for us.”
Similar to their response after going down the first time, Oliver Ames was back on the offensive nearly immediately. Junior Brady deVos’ long shot was deflected that gave Louhis a chance with a header in the area but it was right at the keeper in the 26th minute.
OA pulled level four minutes later as right back Harry Ahearn connected with Dillon Cupples near the top of the box. Cupples had his bid blocked by a defender but the ball fell right to Jimmy Keane, who latched onto it with a low blast into the back of the net to make it 2-2 in the 30th minute.
This time the Tigers took advantage of their momentum, earning a free kick from 25 yards out. Junior Matthew Nikiciuk blasted a right footed past the wall and into the far corner to give the hosts their first lead of the game, up 3-2, in the 31st minute.
“I hope the guys felt reassured they could come back,” Barata said. “Once we got the lead, we definitely we weren’t going to give it back. The key was the get the goals and then be disciplined enough to not give another one back.”
The second half was all Tigers, who put on a clinic in the final third over the course of 40 minutes. Peppering the net with 10 shots on goal, OA cashed in for three more goals.
But before the OA offense could get in full gear, the defense came up with a big stop. Dominek Borden flicked a header off a throw in that eluded the keeper but defender Jonathan Freeman made the stop with a header before the ball could cross.
Cupples doubled the hosts’ lead in the 59th minute. After having his pass blocked by a defender, the ball popped up and Cupples blasted a wicked volley from 25 yards out that dipped under the crossbar for a 4-2 lead in the 58th minute.
Two minutes later, Louhis played Anthony DaCosta in with a through ball. DaCosta took a touch to cut the ball back onto his right foot and blasted a shot near post top shelf that gave OA a 5-2 lead.
The Tigers’ grabbed their third goal in a six-minute span when Mathias Taylor blasted a shot from a step inside the box that was saved, only for Louhis to race in and bury the rebound.
“It’s a great time of year to have these chances and have the ball go into the back of the net,” Barata said. “Hopefully we have many more to come. Greater New Bedford did a great job, we knew it would be a tough game. Sometimes that first [playoff] can almost be the toughest. It’s not always the toughest, I can’t really explain it, but you want to get that first one. Our journey is tough, we’re in for a battle next time out with either Somerset-Berkley or North Attleboro.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer (14-3-0) will host the winner of #5 Somerset-Berkley and #13 North Attleboro with a date and time still to be determined.