Hopkins Academy hangs on to win Division 4 soccer title

Laste modified: Friday, December 06, 2013
WESTFIELD — With his Hopkins Academy boys soccer team clinging to a one-goal lead late in the second half Sunday afternoon, keeper Ben Pitta called his team together at a stoppage.

The Western Massachusetts Division 4 title game had become quite physical, and the senior delivered an important message to his teammates.

“I told the guys to calm things down and keep their cool,” Pitta said. “It was getting a little crazy with the physical play, and I wanted to keep the guys away of that stuff. We had the lead, the advantage at that point. No need for a card or anything like that.”

Pitta’s contribution proved to be far more than a motivational speech, as he pitched a 10-save shutout in a 1-0 victory over Monson.

“Ben’s just fantastic,” Hopkins coach Justin Campbell said. “He’s got a great skill-set, great reactions. I’m glad we didn’t have to go to penalty kicks, but we would have been plenty confident with him in goal.”

Pitta needed to make one final save in the waning seconds. The whistle sounded seconds after he kicked the ball away.

“We definitely had to work until the final second in this one, but we’ve had to work until the end of a lot of games,” Campbell said. “We’ve talked all season about playing the full 80 minutes, no matter the situation.

Hopkins (19-1-1) won its second straight sectional title to set up a state semifinal rematch with central Mass. champion Sutton (17-0-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lunenberg High School.

Campbell mentioned that his team’s 2-1 semifinal win Wednesday over Gateway helped prepare the Golden Hawks for Sunday’s final.

“We talked about how last year we went into the (western Mass. final) against Smith Academy without a strong test beforehand,” Campbell said. “In every tournament game you get the other team’s best thrown at you, but it helps to play quality competition all the way through.”

Junior Cole Burdell and Alex Curran each made key defensive plays along the back line. In the second half, Burdell had a breakup and also headed out a free kick headed toward a Monson attacker on the near post. Curran made a slide tackle in the first half to thwart a solid rush.

“We knew Monson would come in prepared,” Campbell said. “They move the ball really well and are a dangerous team. Our defense needed to evolve throughout the season, and those guys have come together nicely. We make sure we always have layers between the ball and the guys going to the net.”

Monson took a double-digit number of set pieces in the second half, with the strong-legged Michael Lund taking the kicks. Pitta’s best save was a leaping fingertip deflection off a 23-yard direct kick by Lund from the extreme left wing.

About 15 minutes into the first half, Hopkins’ two senior cocaptains connected for the game’s lone goal.

Forward Tyler Szymkowicz converted a breakaway attempt off a feed from midfielder Brennan Mitrolka.

“Brennan saw me in the gap and played me a great ball,” Szymkowicz said. “I was able to put one touch on it and get it past the keeper.”

Campbell wasn’t at all surprised at getting production out of limited possession.

“Tyler’s just a special player, he makes the absolute most of his touches,” Campbell said. “You don’t need too many shots if you can put one in the back of the net.”

The Golden Hawks struck first despite Monson holding a majority of the early possession time. Just before Szymkowicz’ tally, Lund rocketed a shot from 30 yards that Pitta reached up to snag.

In the course of play, Lund fired a pair of rising shots that Pitta reached up to stop.

“It was a great day to play and I saw the ball well,” Pitta said. “Our defense was tremendous. We had a couple of issues but worked them out. I never expected this to be a 1-0 game, but we made it stand up.”

In the last nine minutes before halftime, Szymkowicz and Paul Delamy put on a pair of rushes in an attempt to increase the lead, but couldn’t quite connect.

The Golden Hawks sustained some attacking pressure early in the second half. Mitrolka put a free kick into the box, headed by Evan Delaney into the arms of keeper Trey Miller (two saves).

A couple minutes later, Delaney was sent free up the right side, but Tyler Lefebvre broke up the chance from behind.

“Monson’s a great team, and we were fortunate enough to score once and hold on,” Szymkowicz said. “Most tournament games are 1-0, 2-1, so you have to win like that. Ben came up huge for us.”

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