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Defensive adjustments spur Amherst boys soccer state final run

Cody Baglow of Amherst Regional, left, moved from central defense to midfield and the results have led the Hurricanes to tonight's state Division 1 final against Needham. The game is at 7:30 p.m. at Worcester State College.

Cody Baglow of Amherst Regional, left, moved from central defense to midfield and the results have led the Hurricanes to tonight's state Division 1 final against Needham. The game is at 7:30 p.m. at Worcester State College. Purchase photo reprints »

It took some time and tinkering for the Amherst Regional boys soccer team to become the dominant force it’s been over its run to tonight’s state Division 1 title.

The Hurricanes (12-2-5) allowed 14 goals over their first 11 games and were 6-2-3 coming off a 2-2 tie against Westfield on Oct. 11.

“We made some adjustments in the back and some adjustments in the midfield and it’s been paying off with some pretty stellar defense,” coach Michael Rudd said. “Once we shored up those holes and gaps that we didn’t fill in the first half of the season, it allowed us to play with a little more freedom, a little bit more certainty.”

Amherst then played to scoreless ties against Ludlow and East Longmeadow and have since rolled off six straight wins while outscoring their opponents 12-1.

Overall, they’ve posted eight shutouts in the last nine games.

Senior captain Jaimon Olmstead, a central defender, said moving classmate and fellow captain Cody Baglow from the other center ‘D’ spot up to the midfield has been a big key.

“We had a lot of numbers coming down on us and we weren’t handling it well,” Olmstead said. “Having him in the midfield is a defensive presence and it helps us out a lot.”

Olmstead added that senior Isaac Bass, who took over next to Olmstead, has been essential by stepping into the role without the team missing a beat.

The Hurricanes, who are the program’s first western Mass. champion, play in their first state title game tonight at Worcester State at 7:30 p.m. against Needham (20-1-3), which beat Somerville 2-1 in the other state semifinal Wednesday.

Amherst’s terrific defense has allowed the offense to work through some relative struggles. The offense scored six goals against Sci-Tech in the WMass quarterfinals, but it took an own goal in overtime to defeat West Springfield 1-0 in the semifinals. Then, they played 100 scoreless minutes against Ludlow before winning on penalty kicks 7-6.

Overall, the defense has posted 348 minutes, 14 seconds of shutout play in the postseason. That run will be tested by a Needham squad led by forward Mac Steeves, who has more than 100 career points.

The Amherst offense, meanwhile, looked more in control in Wednesday night’s 1-0 state semifinal win over Leominster, which featured consistent offensive scoring chances with Brandon Vazquez breaking through for the goal in the second half.

“We haven’t been finishing a lot,” said Olmstead, who hit the crossbar with a header once and hit a defender on the goal line in the chest on another header Wednesday. “It was good to get off the schneid and hopefully it means more goals to come on Friday.”

The Hurricanes are looking to extend the WMass D-1 state title streak to three. Ludlow won in 2010 and 2011.

Win or lose, however, the team has set the new standard for the program.

“It means a lot,” Olmstead said. “Amherst is quickly becoming more and more a soccer town. The whole time I’ve been (in the program), I’ve always thought of it as a soccer town and we’ve always contended (in WMass). We’ve always been close. We just haven’t quite broken through.”

Olmstead added that one of the nice treats of the team’s run has been hearing from all the former players, who have been sending well-wishes on social media and in person — there were many in attendance Wednesday — since Sunday’s sectional final win.

“We’ve seen all these alums who didn’t quite get there and now they are here watching us and they are so happy,” Olmstead said. “I’ve heard from guys who have played in college and they heard that we beat Ludlow and they were so happy. We’ve got a real Amherst soccer family growing here and it’s really cool to continue to build the tradition.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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