Division 1 boys soccer: Amherst falls to West Springfield on penalty kicks in semifinals

Laste modified: Friday, December 06, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — Overtime and penalty kicks were good to the Amherst Regional boys soccer team last season in its run to the sectional title, but on Wednesday evening a dynamite keeper ended the Hurricanes’ hopes of a repeat.

West Springfield’s Alex Kraver stole a Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament semifinal victory with a 3-1 win on penalty kicks, following a scoreless regulation and two overtimes.

“I thought the game was a little sloppy on both sides, neither team played up to its talent level,” Amherst coach Michael Rudd said. “We’re a possession team that likes to play with pace, but we didn’t have much of that.”

No. 3 West Springfield (14-3-3) will face top-seeded Ludlow (15-2-3) at a date, time and location to be announced.

No. 2 Amherst (12-4-4) defeated West Side 1-0 in overtime in last season’s semifinals, then took down Ludlow on penalty kicks in the sectional final.

“I was kind of expecting PKs, because both teams are solid defensively,” Amherst keeper Mike Rock said. “(Kraver and I) both went at it out there, and we both knew what we were doing. He stopped more than I did, obviously, but we both had the mindset that we were going to win.”

Amherst took the early advantage after the first round. Rock stopped Matt Kolb to start, then Eric Gooden snuck his attempt inside the left post.

After Alec Rising evened it for West Side, Kraver proceeded to make diving saves on Alex LaRaja, Adrian Houghton and Jake Rudd.

“There’s a psychology involved in shootouts,” Michael Rudd said. “Once our first guy missed, it made it easier for their keeper and tougher for our other shooters to follow.”

Brothers Kieran and Conor Moriarty converted their attempts in the third and fourth rounds.

“It felt good to get the early lead, but once I missed the second one I think it knocked our morale down a bit,” Rock said. “I got a piece of that one, but I went a little over the ball. That stuff happens.”

West Side applied heavy pressure for much of the second overtime, as the Hurricanes survived three corner kicks over the 10-minute period.

Amherst had a sparkling opportunity to win in the 100th minute. Ian Robson sent Gooden up the middle for a clear shot that Kraver (six saves) juggled and caught.

Rock’s 11 saves in regulation and overtime kept the Terriers off the board. He was tested roughly 40 seconds into the first overtime on a low shot by Kolb.

“Mike was focused and played a terrific game,” Rudd said. “He’s worked very hard to improve his game, particularly coming off his line. I think that work showed” Wednesday.

Although the Terriers controlled the ball for a majority of the game, the Hurricanes had more quality scoring chances. Brandon Vazquez, Gooden and Robson put on a number of rushes but couldn’t convert.

The best opportunity came in the first minute of the second half, when Vazquez found Gooden up the right wing but his shot nailed the crossbar.

Vazquez, who left Monday’s quarterfinal win over East Longmeadow with an ankle injury, passed a variety of tests in pregame warmups, according to Rudd.

“I was a little restricted in certain movements, but once I warmed up I felt good to go,” Vazquez said. “I don’t feel it affected me too much. We all worked hard, we just couldn’t get that goal.”

Rudd added, “Not many players are 100 percent at this time of the season, but Brandon was healthy enough to play and play well.”

The ’Canes took their lone corner kick with just over three minutes left, but nothing came of it.

Amherst did a solid job defending the Terriers’ throw-ins, which Mike Orlando placed in the box from anywhere on the attacking side of the field.

“We switched up tactics a little bit, especially to defend their size and speed, which really prevented us from a consistent attack,” Rudd said. “I was hoping we’d keep it out of the net and be able to score one or two. Didn’t happen.”

The loss marked the final game for Amherst seniors Rock, Vazquez, Gooden, Noa Iimura, Jesse Welborn, Adam Rice, Josh Soper, Wilson Fidalgo, Hadrian Rodriguez, Jack McGowan and Koby Gardner-Levine.

“I’m disappointed for our seniors to have their career end on penalty kicks,” Rudd said. “But those guys have been a pleasure to coach and they accomplished a lot for the program.”

Vazquez said, “These guys are great to play with, and we all worked hard all season. Our team has a lot of juniors, so this playoff experience will help them next year. We seniors had a great ride these last few years, and I’ll remember everything about it.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.