Pilgrim foils SRA’s dream season

Pilgrim foils SRA’s dream season

St. Raphael Academy senior Max Rodriguez-Cepparo, left, races past Pilgrim’s Nicholas Jaggi, #14, and the rest of the defense as he makes his way toward the net during the opening half of Sunday night’s Division II championship game at Johnston High. Pilgrim’s goal with 12:21 to play in the game gave the Patriots a 1-0 victory and their first title since 2000. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Previously unbeaten Saints boys’ soccer team suffers 1-0 loss again in D-III finals

JOHNSTON – The finest season in the 16-year history of the St. Raphael Academy boys’ soccer team came to a very bitter end on Sunday night at Johnston High.

For the second straight year, the Saints could not find the back of the net in the Division III championship game and ended up suffering a 1-0 loss, this time to Pilgrim, which scored the deciding goal with 12:21 remaining in the game.

The Saints, who were back in the finals after last season’s 1-0 defeat to Cranston East at Rhode Island College, were looking to not only produce their program’s first championship, but also their first undefeated season. The Saints came into this game with a 17-0-1 record that included a 4-0 victory over Pilgrim in their fourth game of the season.

The Saints reached the finals by blasting Scituate, 5-1, in the quarterfinals on Nov. 3 at Max Read Field, and Tiverton, 5-0, in last Thursday night’s semifinals in Johnston.

“Sometimes they say when you score a lot of goals in your previous games, you think they’re automatically going to come, and that just didn’t happen,” SRA head coach Frank Balcarcel said. “We’re usually a team that doesn’t have that many opportunities, but we’ll get them in there, and today, it just didn’t happen.”

The Saints dominated play in the first half, setting the pace and getting the ball to the net. Both Dylan Polion and Max Rodriguez kept taking shots or setting them up, but the Saints just couldn’t finish their opportunities.

Balcarcel also reported that after 10 minutes of play, Cano Morales had to come out of the game. He had suffered a groin injury in the semifinals, and Balcarcel said it took a little hit on his team not having someone moving the ball around the middle of the field the way Morales does.

In the second half, “I tried to get everyone focused to go back to what we train and what we do, but I don’t know if they just got caught up in the whole thing of it and the pressure got to them,” Balcarcel said.

Again, the Saints missed on their opportunities, while the Patriots took three consecutive corner kicks that were either saved by keeper Emiliano Munguia or knocked away.

After a wide shot, the Patriots took another corner kick, and when Zachary DaSilva booted it near the Saints’ net, Danny Peixinho hammered it home for his state-leading 28th goal of the season. Before the Saints could start the action back up, Peixinho was hit with a yellow card and had to leave the field for a few minutes, but the Saints were still unable to score the equalizer in the remaining time.

“I’m pleased with the season,” Balcarcel said. “I couldn’t ask for any more. We just couldn’t put the last piece together. It is what it is and that’s soccer. We have good soccer players and this is a good soccer team. Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way.”

Peixinho’s goal was only the 11th allowed by the Saints this season, and Balcarcel credited his back line with that statistic.

“Before that goal, nobody really scored on us,” Balcarcel added. “We hadn’t allowed a lot of shots, so overall, I thought that was probably the most consistent thing throughout the whole year. Julian (Giraldo) and Hector (Padilla) were so solid in the back, and I’m going to miss Hector because he’s a senior. But I have Julian and I think he’s probably one of the best defenders in the state.”

After making it to the finals the last two years, Balcarcel hopes his team can do it again next season, even though he will graduate eight players in the spring.

“If we stay in D-III, I think we have the players to do it,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids coming up, and I think we’ll have a pretty good future in the next five years. We could be here whether we’re Division III or Division II. I’m hoping that at some point we’ll move up to Division II because I want people in the state to see that we have good players and good soccer.”

In the semifinal-round victory over Tiverton, Polion scored three goals and Rodriguez and Giraldo each added one, and in the win over Scituate, Jeffrey Codman and Rodriguez each scored twice and Morales scored the other goal.

Sophomore Alexander Bautista and his St. Raphael Academy teammates saw their bid for their team’s first undefeated season and Division III championship come up short on Sunday night at Johnston High, as Pilgrim High used a late goal to edge the Saints, 1-0.