The Patriot League co-champion Duxbury Dragons took on undefeated and No. 8 ranked Canton High School on Friday night in Bridgewater, losing to the Bulldogs, 1-0, in the Division II South Sectional semifinals.
In a rematch of the season-opener with Canton that handed Duxbury a 3-1 loss at home, the game was closer than the score indicated.
On a perfect cool and clear fall night, Canton came out strong early and forced All-Star goalie Justin Marino to make two big saves in the first three minutes, while the Duxbury defense was also tested, as Canton had four corner kicks in the first seven minutes. Duxbury center fullback Brett Sahlberg came up big with tough, strong tackling and solid clears on a couple of the corners.
Much of Cantonâ€™s offense is generated by junior midfielder Chris Murray, whose tremendous throw-in ability is more dangerous than corner kicks. Murrayâ€™s skills were on display in the opener, when all three Canton goals came as a result of his throw-ins.
At the 23-minute mark of the first half, Duxbury fullback Ben Schroeder did a great job stopping Cantonâ€™s leading scorer, senior Igor Perun, on a rush down the right side. Perun gave Schroeder a half-dozen moves to the outside, while Schroeder held his ground and eventually made a big steal to start a Duxbury counter attack.
Coach Tocci called a timeout at the 16-minute mark to gather his team and discuss how to relieve some of Cantonâ€™s offensive pressure.
Striker Zach Gino followed the timeout with a â€œall-out hustleâ€ tackle at midfield that seemed to give the Dragon offense the spark it needed, as junior Cam Mullins rushed up the right side and beat a pair of defenders, then initiated a cross that was cleared aside by the Bulldog defense.
On the next two Canton rushes, junior midfielders Andy Coonan and Wilson Powell made solid defensive stops.
Junior forward Fenton McCall started the best Duxbury offensive thrust of the first half at the eight-minute mark, as he flew down the right side and fed a cross to Gino, whose low shot forced Bulldog goaltender Colby Gavigan to make a critical save.
Junior midfielder Adam Fitzgerald helped preserve the scoreless tie with less than a minute to go when he made a great deflection on a shot just inside the box by Canton forward Mike Denehy.
A relieved Duxbury team left the field at halftime with a scoreless tie; however, the final corner-kick tally was indicative of the offensive pressure applied by Canton, as they held a 10-1 advantage.Â
The second half started out just like the first with lots of Canton pressure, two corner kicks and a number of big throw-ins.Â The Duxbury defense, led by goalie Marino, fullbacks Salhberg, Schroeder, Powell and sophomore Max Cook, held strong. Although Canton dominated possession, they did not have a solid scoring chance.
At the 32-minute mark of the second half, Duxbury finally started to take some offensive initiative with Gino and McCall both shooting wide on long scoring chances, and Wilson Powell landing a nice crossing passÂ that Gino headed forcing the Canton goalie to make a strong save.
Senior Eric Larson then had a great chance with a shot at the top of the 18 that sailed high over the net.
On the next play the big throw-in by Murray led to the only goal of the game with 13 minutes to go, as it landed about 10 feet in front of the net where Canton sophomore forward Drew Blake picked it out of the air and directed it into the open right side of the net.
With the clock ticking, it was time for Duxbury to go all out to tie the score. Solid midfield play by Eric Larson and Mitch Barrington helped the Dragons continue to put pressure on the Bulldog defense.
Duxbury did a better job of possession and attacking after the Canton goal, but the veteran Canton team played smart, steady soccer the rest of the way to foil any Dragon rushes, preserving its well-deserved 1-0 win and a berth in the South Sectional finals against Sandwich.
The loss ends the high school soccer careers of senior captains, Sahlberg, Larson and Mike Gabrielli, along with Zach Gino, DJ Balzotti, Pat Mahony, and Chris Andren.