Not again! N.S. loses in OT in D-II finals

Not again! N.S. loses in OT in D-II finals

Lincoln midfielders Chris Albanese, left, and Tom Corcoran, right, close in on North Smithfield senior striker Bryan Decelles as he brings the ball down the field during Sunday afternoon’s Division II championship game at Cranston Stadium. The Northmen lost in the finals in overtime for the second straight year, this time by a 1-0 score. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Boys’ soccer team’s exceptional season ends with agonizing 1-0 defeat to Lions

CRANSTON – This was cruel.

Losing in the Division II championship match for the second year in a row was tough enough to swallow.

But losing in the finals for the second year in a row in overtime?

That’s what happened to the North Smithfield High boys’ soccer team in Sunday afternoon’s title game against neighboring Lincoln High at Cranston Stadium.

Sophomore midfielder Thomas Zhao’s 35-yard shot that hit the bottom of the crossbar and dropped into the back of the net with 3:49 to play in the second five-minute overtime session broke a scoreless tie, as well as the hearts of the Northmen and their fans, and lifted the Lions to a 1-0 victory and their first D-II title since 2008.

The loss brought back the sting of last year’s finals, which saw the Northmen lose to the Wheeler School on a goal with 1:54 left in the first five-minute overtime period, and the pain of Sunday’s defeat was clearly evident on the faces of the players and head coach Eric Korytkowski as they glumly accepted the runner-up plaque during the post-game ceremony at midfield.

“I’d rather lose 20-0,” Korytkowski quietly said as he fought back tears. “It’s tough. These kids fought so hard, and this is the toughest part, just seeing them disappointed. I told them, ‘I don’t think anybody deserves (a championship) more, but that’s just not the way things work out sometimes.’ You have to put the ball in the back of the net, and we just didn’t do that today. Lincoln was able to do it and hats off to them.”

In their regular-season meeting on Sept. 13 at North Smithfield, the 2nd-seeded Northmen notched a 2-1 win over the 4th-seeded Lions, thanks to a pair of first-half goals by senior Jadil Martinez. But in Sunday’s rematch, quality scoring opportunities were hard to come by, especially during the 80 minutes of regulation, as both sides combined to take just 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 (13-3-3) 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, sophomore Tom 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 overtime, while folks were anticipating the game heading into penalty kicks, Zhao struck for his goal.

Zhao took a pass from David 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.

The Northmen did everything they possibly 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 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.

It was a difficult defeat to absorb for the Northmen and Korytkowski, who graduated seven starters from last year’s team that won the D-II regular-season title with a 14-1-1 mark, but managed to fill in the blanks and put together another superb season that included a seven-game win streak that kept them in first place until the final week-and-a-half of the regular season.

In the quarterfinals on Nov. 7, the Northmen edged upset-minded 7th-seeded Mount Hope, 1-0, on Bryan Decelles’ team-leading 19th goal of the season, which came off a pass by Steven Reyes with less than two minutes to play in the first half, and in the semifinals last Thursday at Johnston High, N.S. topped 3rd-seeded Hope, 3-1, thanks to a hat trick by Michael Fernandes.

“If you would have told me at the end of the season last year that, ‘Hey, you guys are going to go back to the championship game next year. You might lose, but you’re going to go back,’ I’d sign right up for that,” Korytkowski added. “These kids felt the sting of last year and that really motivated them to come back and work harder.”

“Like I said, I know this is disappointing, but these kids don’t owe me anything. Our seniors gave me everything they had for four years, and the product we put on the field tonight is something that I am proud of. Again, this game didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I’m happy with the way we played.”

North Smithfield senior forward Jadil Martinez, right, heads the ball away from Lincoln senior halfback Ryan Fish during the second half of Sunday afternoon’s Division II championship game at Cranston Stadium. The Lions scored a goal in the second five-minute overtime period to post a 1-0 victory.
North Smithfield senior halfback Liam Zonin, left, prevents the ball from going out of bounds in front of Lincoln senior striker Josh Jahnz.