La Salle turns tables on Tolman

La Salle turns tables on Tolman

Emotions ran high during Sunday’s state title game between Tolman High and La Salle Academy. Above, La Salle keeper Aidan Figueira, second from left, and Tolman midfieler Roy Barrios, center, confront each other late in the game as they are surrounded by a group of La Salle players that included Drew Silva, left, Jaedon Costa, #19, and Babacar Sow, #6. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Boys’ soccer team’s bid to repeat as state champs falls short in physical 3-0 defeat

CRANSTON – With all the drama, emotions, and expectations going into Sunday afternoon’s Division I boys’ soccer championship game at Cranston Stadium, La Salle Academy found a way to spoil Tolman High’s bid to repeat as state champions by posting a 3-0 victory.

It was a rematch of last year’s finals, but also a rematch of a regular-season game on Sept. 13 at the McKinnon-Alves Complex that made statewide news after La Salle rolled past Tolman, 4-1. A few La Salle players had lost their heads a little and produced a racially charged Instagram video that was directed at the Tigers and eventually led to a few suspensions.

Both teams put the incident behind them, but eight cards (seven yellow and one red) were handed out in what turned into a physical matchups.

As for the Tigers, who had kicked off the season with a 1-4-2 mark, they returned to the title match with an 11-game win streak, with the 11th victory coming in last Thursday’s semifinals – a 2-1 win over regular-season champion North Kingstown – and all 11 coming with junior keeper Nelton Semedo between the pipes.

Semedo, who missed the start of the season recovering from meniscus surgery that he had on his knee over the summer, returned to the lineup three games after the loss to the Rams, and Tolman did not lose a game the rest of the way until Sunday’s showdown.

The Rams scored the only goal they needed 10:45 into the game when Babacar Sow scored on the rebound of a penalty kick by Ian Mackin that Semedo had batted away with a dive. The ball came out, still in play, and the Rams were ready for it, as Mackin got the ball back to Sow and he fired it into the back of the net.

La Salle then added its other two goals in the final 11:44 minutes of the game to seal its fifth state title since 2011.

“It was definitely not our best game at all today,” Tolman head coach Dan Silva said. “We went down 1-0 on the penalty shot, but at the half, it was still anybody’s game. We came out and had a couple of opportunities in the second half, but it just wasn’t our day and it wasn’t meant to be.”

The Tigers definitely had their chances, especially after the Rams struck with their first goal. Juan Barrios took a shot that was just wide, and his brother, Roy, fired a shot, but right at La Salle keeper Aidan Figueira.

As the first half wound down, emotions and competitiveness ran high, and the referees began handing out cards. Two Tolman players were yellow-carded with less than four minutes to play in the first.

“The emotions were high,” Silva said. “And the referee didn’t understand what kind of kids we have, and he let the other team get away with stuff that we don’t get (away with). He might not see the little talk or push, but with our guys, it means a lot for us to be here. La Salle is here every other year. For us to be here means a lot. I don’t think that was taken into account.”

The Tigers had a perfect opportunity to tie things up in the second half, as Juan Barrios beat Figueira, but his shot was blocked. The net was still wide open as Salim Chakhsi took his shot, but that sailed just past the post.

The Tigers got lucky on their own end when Michael Hofstetter unloaded a shot that took Semedo out of the goal. But Semedo’s defenders went back and guarded the net, kicking the ball away on another shot.

After a yellow card was delivered to Hofstetter later in the half, the Rams rallied and Jaedon Costa scored their second goal off a pass from Mackin with 11:44 left.

Emotions continued to escalate, as Juan Barrios and La Salle’s Paul Moura received yellow cards, and with 9:49 on the clock, the Rams struck for their final goal, as Mackin took a pass from Wren Honeyghan and headed it past Semedo.

With the 3-0 lead, things almost came to a head between the two teams. There was a brief tussle of shoving near La Salle’s net, and in the end, Juan Barrios was red carded. After the scrum, another yellow card was handed out to La Salle.

The Tigers dearly wanted to get back to the finals after their Cinderella season last year, which saw them post a 14-0-4 mark. Their chances looked bleak at the start of the season, but when Semedo got healthy and the team began to bond, things came together.

“It was a great journey,” Silva said. “We didn’t finish it the way we would have obviously liked. We were up against history and really doing something spectacular. This last two-year run with this team and these boys, they have nothing to be ashamed of. You appreciate these moments because you never know when they’re going to come again. We didn’t get it down this time, but we still have a trophy in our school.”

Tolman senior Patrick Pires takes down La Salle Academy junior Wren Honeyghan with minutes remaining in the first half of Sunday's game. Pires was given a yellow card, one of eight the referees issued in the game.
La Salle's Babacar Sow makes a sliding tackle on Tolman's Roy Barrios, #10 as Barrios tries to bring the ball down the field.
Tolman High junior midfielder Aliou Sissoko, #7, battles La Salle Academy senior midfielder Andre Vieira for control of the ball during Sunday afternoon’s state championship game at Cranston Stadium. The Rams topped the Tigers, 3-0, for the fifth title since 2011.