CANTON, Mass. – Two days of rain forced the game to be moved from its home field, but Sharon did not seem bothered by having to play at Canton for a second time or to be without two of its starting midfielders.
The Eagles locked down defensively, with keeper Ethan Kantor largely untroubled by the Canton attack, and got second half goals from Andrew Reyes-Jones and Ben Stamm to walk away with a 2-0 victory that clinched a spot in the state tournament and extended Sharon’s lead in the Davenport division to four points over the Bulldogs.
“We’ve been talking about the importance of getting these two points,” said Sharon coach Bryan Kelly. “This puts us in. That’s great; now we’re playing for seeding.”
The weather forced the game to be played on Canton’s turf pitch rather than the grass at Sharon and that decision looked prescient when the skies opened up during warmups and the pitch was deluged by rain through almost the entire first half.
The downpour had its effect on the opening 40 minutes with the ball skidding around and both teams struggling to create any scoring chances from open play. Both teams relied on set pieces to get the ball into the attacking third with Sharon’s TTyler Hippler sending in a number of long free kicks and long throws into the box.
Canton’s best chances fell to Jake Verille in the 19th minute and to Sam Papakonstantino a minute later but the first effort sliced wide and the second was easily held by Kantor. That would be the lone save that the Sharon keeper was forced to make.
“We had no attack today,” admitted Canton coach Danny Erickson. “They pressured very well and we didn’t handle it. Tackles were all Sharon, everything in both boxes were Sharon and they clearly deserved to win today.”
The best chance of the opening half came on a Hippler throw that fell to Jeffrey Gao, who managed to flick a shot to the far corner where Canton keeper Abe Garber was able to tip it around the post. On the ensuing corner Shalin Patel headed over.
The sun came out just before halftime and the Eagles seemed to gain energy from the changing weather. The second half saw Sharon push forward and look far more dangerous in the attacking third.
“We’ve been looking for the diagonal ball and we haven’t been hitting it, so we just need to continue to do that and win the ball,” said Kelly about the second half surge. “We weren’t doing much in the first half and once we started to do that in the second half the game really changed.”
That change in momentum created the opening goal nine minutes after the break. Hippler squared a pass from the right into Stamm on the edge of the box and he turned his defender before laying the ball into the path of Reyes-Jones. The junior took a touch past his marker before firing a shot inside the far post for what turned out to be the game-winner.
“Ben Stamm was the difference tonight,” Kelly explained. “Getting that solid touch, the first-time ball, nice turn on it to Andy and Andy put it home. Without Ben in the middle there, it’s a different game.”
Six minutes after the goal, Reyes-Jones nearly played provider with a through ball to Spencer Hall but his shot was saved by Garber. Canton had only one clear chance from the run of play in the second half when Griffin Roach turned on the edge of the box after a Paul Corcoran throw but his shot slid wide of the post.
The only chances that Canton was able to manage came on free kicks and corners with Matas Leveckis having a couple of headers in the box that he was not able to put on target.
Erickson said, “Our only chances were on set pieces and we never really got any test on them. It was a tough one for us today.”
With the game winding down, Canton was caught with everyone up field and a quick ball played over the top sprung Stamm, who was onside because he started the run in his own half. Stamm beat Garber to the ball, touched it past the keeper and then walked it in for the goal that settled the game.
When asked if he felt a little better after the second goal, Kelly laughed and responded, “Absolutely, that second one was, thank you…thank you.”
Sharon qualified for the postseason for the third straight season. The past two years have seen the Eagles get knocked out on the road in the opening round and Kelly said that the team is intent on changing that this fall.
He said, “The important thing is my boys aren’t focused on that first game. We want to get through that first game, we don’t want it to end in the first game this year.”
Sharon (8-3-3, 7-3-3) will step outside the league on Monday to face Norwood, before getting back into Hockomock play against Stoughton the following day. A win against the Black Knights would clinch at least a share of the Davenport crown for the Eagles, the program’s first league title since back-to-back championships in 1993 and 1994.
Canton (6-5-4, 5-5-3) needs two points to clinch a spot in the postseason and will next face Foxboro on Tuesday night.