Defending champion and top seed Cougars and No. 2 Raiders knock back semifinal challengers.
EXETER — The complexion of a soccer game can change in the blink of an eye. That was certainly the case with Wednesday’s Division II boys’ soccer semifinal between Lebanon and Oyster River of Durham.
A pair of goals in less than a minute helped turn a scoreless game into a rout as the second-seeded Raiders downed the third-seeded Bobcats 3-0 at Bill Ball Stadium. Tommy Berthasavage and Tyler St. Martin offered the quick strikes midway through the first half that allowed the Lebanon to take the wind out of Oyster River’s sails.
The Raiders will face off against No. 1 ConVal of Peterborough, which took a 1-0 win over No. 5 Bow in Wednesday’s other semifinal match.
“Those first eight or nine minutes, you could see the wheels spinning,” Lebanon coach Rob Johnstone said. “I don’t know if it was breaking the first sweat or getting a quick second wind, but we were certainly a step faster there and it showed.”
The sudden flip of the script began when Logan Falzarano’s corner kick curled onto the head of Berthasavage and in for a 1-0 Raiders lead in the 17th minute. Good fortune continued for the Raiders shortly after the restart as a slip-up by Oyster River’s defense helped St. Martin shed two defenders on a breakaway before easily finding the net.
“I just tried to play the ball between those and they ended up falling over each other while I got the ball,” St. Martin said. “Once we score, we’re always trying to just keep it going like we did there. I don’t think we ever let up.”
St. Martin added a second goal in the 34th minute, collecting and finishing a Nate Magari centering pass. The Raiders only posted just six shots on net. Lebanon keeper Jorgen Leuthauser stopped seven shots to preserve the shutout.
Aggression was an evident contrast between the two teams, which helped Lebanon gain and maintain its edge. Oyster River’s shots came from outside the 18-yard box due to a lack of forward attacking and pressure. On the other hand, Lebanon played with conviction and a head of steam on every ball it touched.
“We said if you’re going at somebody, go at them full speed,” Johnstone said. “Sometimes when you’re looking or trying to solve the puzzle, you slow up a little. We try to let our guys have that creative freedom to attack, but they’ve got to go at the defense and keep digging.”
ConVal 1, Bow 0: Taylor Burgess did his best Superman impression to lift the defending champion Cougars back to the D-II title game.
The senior scored the game’s only goal in the 10th minute on a highlight-reel move that saw him go airborne to finish a header.
After corralling a touch from midfield along the right side, Finn Wegueller saw Burgess calling for a lead pass into the box. Wegmueller obliged with a 15-yard laser that Burgess caught up with and headed on a dive.
“We try to get the ball wide when we can,” ConVal coach Josh Smith said. “When we have the opportunities to take them then we want to, but be patient. It’s more about getting those opportunistic guys in the box to put a head or a toe on it.”
The action was limited from there as the game was mostly confined to the middle of the field until the final 15 minutes of the contest, when Bow produced its best chances. John Salerno had maybe the best opportunity of the night for the Falcons when he had a one-on-one look at ConVal keeper Mather Kipka in the 75th minute. That threat was quashed by Kipka, who came off his line to halt the play and then scrambled back to cover up the loose ball.
Kipka finished with three saves to complete the shutout, but ConVal’s team defense during Bow’s pressure-packed finish was held equal importance to Kipka’s effort.
“We have 16 kids from the team last year, so the kids know what each other can do and are capable of,” Smith said. “Defensively, even if you’re a forward, you’re going to get back and fight in on those free kicks and corners. They all take pride in it and that’s what’s important.”