Lincoln captures D-II championship

Lincoln captures D-II championship

The members of the Division II champion Lincoln High boys’ soccer team, shown with their championship plaque and medals after Sunday night’s 1-0 double-overtime victory over North Smithfield High, are, in front from left, Thomas Zhao, Nate Thompson, Nick Penta, Giancarlo Ricci, Josh Jahnz, Oskar Caldarone, Kyle Rodrigues, Matt Carvalho, David Idarraga, Matt Morra, and Jordan Furtado; in back, assistant coach Alex D’Aloisio, head coach John D’Aloisio, assistant coach Anthony Turchetta, Chris Accardi, Aiden Bridges, Kobe Carvalho, Dan Fish, Sam Ferranti, Tom Corcoran, Alex Della Grotta, Ryan Fish, Luke DeStefano, Donoven Fernandes, Chris Albanese, and assistant coach Jon Ariza. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Zhao’s goal with 3:49 left in second OT gives boys’ soccer team first title in 11 years

CRANSTON – On a team heavy with battle-tested seniors with two or three years of varsity experience, it was a sophomore transfer student who delivered one of the biggest goals in the history of the Lincoln High boys’ soccer program on Sunday afternoon in the Lions’ Division II championship game against North Smithfield.

Thomas Zhao’s 35-yard shot that plunked off the bottom of the crossbar and dropped into the back of the net with 3:49 to play in a second five-minute overtime session snapped a scoreless tie and lifted the Lions to a 1-0 victory and their first D-II title since 2008.

The win capped a wild seven-day stretch for the 4th-seeded Lions, which began on Monday, Nov 4, with a 2-0 triumph over 5th-seeded East Greenwich in the quarterfinals at the Lions’ Ferguson Field and continued last Thursday night with a 2-1 win over 8th-seeded Mount Pleasant in the semis at Johnston High.

The win over the Kilties saw the Lions (13-3-3) pull victory from the jaws of a 1-0 defeat by sending the game in overtime on Matt Morra’s tying goal with 49 seconds left in regulation and then winning it by outscoring Mount Pleasant in penalty kicks, 4-3, on goals by David Idarraga, Chris Albanese, Tom Corcoran, and Sam Ferranti, with Ferranti’s kick in the fifth round sealing the win.

“I can’t even describe the feeling right now, going through the game we just had in the semifinals and today’s (game),” added Lincoln head coach John D’Aloisio, who last guided the Lions to the finals in 2013. “We were on our heels throughout the second half and we took some injuries, but we found a way to win.”

“I really feel like we beat a great team,” D’Aloisio continued. “(N.S. head coach) Eric (Korytkowski) is a great coach, so it’s mixed in that respect because I really like Eric; however, I can’t describe the feeling. What an incredible, incredible run this was.”

The championship was the second D-II title in the program’s 31-year history, and it was a magical way for the Lions’ 16 seniors to cap their high school career.

“It feels amazing,” Lincoln captain Kyle Rodrigues said as he clutched the championship plaque. “This is the first (boys’ soccer title) going into the school in a long time, so it feels really good, especially our senior year. All 16 seniors have actually all played together since U10, so this means a lot to us.”

In their regular-season meeting on Sept. 13 at North Smithfield, the 2nd-seeded Northmen netted a 2-1 win over the Lions, thanks to a pair of first-half goals by senior Jadil Martinez. But in Sunday afternoon’s rematch, quality scoring opportunities were few and far between, especially during the 80 minutes of regulation, as both sides combined to take only 14 shots on goal – not counting a handful that nearly found their mark, but sailed over the crossbar.

The fact that this was a defensive duel shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the fans of both teams: North Smithfield (14-4-1) had yielded just 14 goals and posted eight shutouts this year, while Lincoln entered Sunday’s game with a 7-0-2 mark and seven shutouts in its last nine games.

In the first overtime, the Lions nearly struck for a goal, when with 1:10 on the clock, Corcoran rocketed a 29-yard free kick that N.S. keeper Ethan Cote stopped with a superb dive to his right, and during the start of the second OT, while folks were anticipating the game heading into penalty kicks, Zhao struck for his goal.

Zhao took a pass from Idarraga, raced in a few steps, and perfectly nailed a kick that scratched the bottom of the crossbar, was just out of Cote’s reach, and took a spin into the back of the net.

“There weren’t many things I could do,” said Zhao, who attended La Salle Academy last year. “I saw the keeper was a few yards off his line, so I thought I might as well have a hit from around 30 yards, and it hit the crossbar and went in. I was kind of surprised (the ball went in the net) because I thought the keeper would get a hand on it and it would go over (the crossbar). But when it went it, I was so excited because we basically won the championship and it’s been something we’ve been working for the entire season.”

“I thought we were going (to penalty kicks),” added Fernandes. “Zhao’s always had a nice shot, but he’s never really used it, and then all of a sudden, he just shot it.”

The Northmen did everything they could to net the equalizer and send the game into penalty kicks during the last three minutes of the overtime period. Michael Fernandes rifled a 20-yard shot that barely missed the top right corner of the net with 2:40 to play; Lincoln keeper Oskar Calderone turned away a header by senior Nathan Bursell with 1:30 to go, and on the final play of the game, a 24-yard free kick by Aidan Beauchemin went over the crossbar.