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Heartbreaking Loss for Devils

November 9, 2018

Leominster's Thiago Cupertino slips between a pair of Wachusett defenders. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Gary Fournier Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LEOMINSTER -- They simply ran out of gas.

After fighting back from being a goal down and scoring the equalizer with almost the last kick of the game, the No. 4 Leominster boys’ soccer team fell in extra time, 2-1, to top-seeded Wachusett Regional in a Central Mass. Division 1 semifinal at Doyle Field Thursday evening.

The loss ends Leominster’s season at 11-4-5, marking their first trip to the postseason since winning Central Mass. six years ago.

The win lifts the Mountaineers to 16-2-2 and into the Central Mass. Finals, where they’ll take on second-seeded Marlboro, 4-0 winners over Tantasqua Regional, on Sunday.

Despite the loss, longtime LHS coach Steve McCaughey could not have been more proud of the Blue Devil effort.

“Coming back to tie it when (Wachusett is) in defend mode with two minutes to go. It shows the heart this team has,” McCaughey said. “I’m going to go back and tell them I haven’t been as proud of a team in a long time. They have so much heart, they worked so hard all year, and they deserve the attention they are getting from these fans.

“They play an exciting brand of soccer, and it was a pleasure to coach them this year.”

Leominster seemed to not have urgency as the clock slipped down to 10 minutes to go, needing an equalizer to keep things going.

That all changed as time slipped into the 79th minute.

A Yago Miller free kick near the touchline saw Wachusett goalkeeper Matthew Befford overplay the cross. The ball fell into the 6-yard box, but no one in a white shirt could get to the ball and put it into the net.

But Miller would do it in the last embers of normal time, slotting home a wonderful strike to pull the Blue and White level and to give LHS a chance at a winner in extra time.

“We changed formation with about 20 minutes to go, and we still weren’t really getting the pressure we were looking for,” McCaughey explained. “We made some substitutions and changes on the fly with about eight minutes to go, and you could see it change: Jarrod Fournier, my right back, I moved him up to right wing, and he turned the volume up right away.

“That was a great finish by Yago. He got there in the last few minutes.”

It was Wachusett, though, who had the winner: Shaine Mullaney had taken a volley from the midfield and played into space. And with LHS keeper Franco Baretto charging off his line, Tanner Gigliotti drove it past him and into the net early in the sixth minute of extra time, giving Wachusett a chance at a MIAA hardware this weekend.

“They have two big, fast, strong guys up top who can score,” McCaughey said. “Mullaney and (Kevin) Skagerlind. They are scary good. Skas had almost 30 goals this season, and Mullaney is almost his match. Our defense was outstanding against them, to hold them to one in normal time, that’s a helluva effort. Not many can do that against a Wachusett team.

“Franco played great in net, made some big saves for us. I have two great center backs, John Liddy and Leo Budzinski; I’ll take them over any centerback pairing in the league. They are outstanding defenders. It wasn’t strategy, it was heart and effort.”

In the 20th, Wachusett went up a goal to nil as Skagerlind drove a low strike from 30 yards away into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

The Mountaineers nearly made it 2-nil in the 28th minute as Gigliotti looked to put a cross from near the midfield into the Upper 90 with an in-air one-timer, but missed the goal by mere inches.

Leominster had a clear shout for a penalty in the 36th minute, but it fell on deaf ears as senior striker Higor Chanes found himself tangled up with a Wachusett centerback. Chanes went to ground, but the center referee did not point to the penalty spot.

“I thought we played a little deflated after the goal, the end of the first half,” McCaughey said. “We still played hard, but you could see it: the frustration and just being deflated is the word. They stopped being in attack-mode maybe quite as much as we had to be.

“We didn’t get the ball wide enough; they play a compact defense, and we went up the middle at them.”

Nine minutes after the restart, a John Liddy free kick over by the touchline found itself cleared by Wachusett, and sent the Mountaineers on the counterattack with Gigliotti on point. But as he got into the attacking third, he found himself dispossessed by Jarrod Fournier, who used a blast of electric pace to crack back and slow the attack.

Just after the hour expired, a Wachusett free kick 32 yards away in the center channel by Koichi Ash went through the Leominster wall, curling and going wide of the far post.

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