NHIAA D-II Boys' Soccer: Top seeds H/B, Windham coast into championship
NASHUA - Division II boys' soccer was expected to be wide open when defending champion Bedford and perennial power Hanover moved up a division this year, but few could have expected the free-for-all that broke out eight days ago when the lower seeded lost each of the six games in the first round.
How crazy was it? Well, No. 13 Plymouth ended up playing No. 12 St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover in one quarterfinal match and No. 14 John Stark of Weare played No. 11 Oyster River of Durham in another.
Top-seeded Hollis/Brookline and second-seeded Windham both got through the first round, but they each had byes.
"There's been parity all the way around," Windham coach Mike Hachey said. "The difference between the top four teams and the bottom four was not much."
So, maybe it was almost an upset that form was followed Thursday night at Stellos Stadium as Windham and Hollis/Brookline advanced to Sunday's championship game at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester (4:30 p.m.). It will be the first trip to finals for Windham and third for Hollis/Brookline, which was runner-up in 2002 and champion in 2004.
The Jaguars handled John Stark, 2-0, in the first game of the night, while the Cavaliers scored three times in the first half en route to a 4-0 win over St. Thomas Aquinas in the nightcap.
Windham 2, John Stark 0
Windham coach Mike Hachey said his skilled team had been waiting to get on a bigger field and they certainly took advantage as they controlled play from start to finish.
"We're a grass field team, but we seem to play better on turf," Hachey said. "Being able to dictate terms of the game is what we're looking for."
The Jaguars owned wide advantages in shots on goal (13-2) and corner kicks (9-0) in this first meeting of the year between the two teams.
"They did a great job of playing their game, controlling the ball and making us run around," John Stark coach Jeff Vogt said.
Windham (15-3) was more skilled, more athletic and, on this day, clearly more organized. However, it took two individual efforts to get the Jaguars on the board.
Chris Ulbrich scored Windham's first goal midway through the first half on a direct kick, booting a low shot from just outside the 18-yard box that beat John Stark goalie Michael Prindiville to the far post.
Alex Whitehead made it 2-0 less than nine minutes into the second half.
Hollis/Brookline 4, St. Thomas 0
The Saints (8-8-3) handed the Cavaliers (14-1-3) their only loss of the season, but Hollis/Brookline responded by winning 10 straight since then, including two more meetings with St. Thomas, and outscoring opponents, 31-4, over that span "That was the turning point," Hollis/Brookline coach Rick Carvalho said. "We were able to look at ourselves and say we weren't the team we wanted to be yet.'"
The Cavaliers scored twice in a span of just over two minutes midway through the first half to take control.
Jake Laurent got the first of his two goals when a pair of St. Thomas defenders failed to clear a long pass from Ryan Papineau, allowing Laurent a breakaway. He took a few steps over the 18-yard line and buried a low shot past St. Thomas goalkeeper Benjamin Mardin.
Christian Beiter made it 2-0 on a nice feed into the box to Cole Owens. He beat Mardin to the ball, flicking the ball into the net with a side foot shot.
Hollis/Brookline took complete command of the match with a little less than five minutes left in the half when a pass by Beiter from the right wing hit a streaking Andrew Cappetta for a shot that Mardin batted down, but the ball trickled off his hands and over the goal line.
Laurent picked up his second goal less than five minutes into the second half after a great individual effort by Beiter left him wide open in front of the net.
Laurent, Beiter and Cappetta are part of a senior core that has grown up playing together.
"We knew we'd be back," said Carvalho, whose team lost to Hanover in the semifinals last year. "We understood what it took to get back."
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Jim Fennell may be reached at email@example.com..