Amherst Regional falls to Needham in boys soccer state final
Amherst's Jaimon Olmstead looks around in disbelief after his team's 1-0 loss Friday night in the state final against Needham at Worcester State College. Purchase photo reprints »
Amherst's Michael Rock races the opposing goalie during the state final matchup against Needham Friday night at Worcester State College. Purchase photo reprints »
Amherst Regional's Nick Johnson, center, is swarmed by two Needham defender during their state Division 1 boys soccer final Friday night at Worcester State University. Purchase photo reprints »
Amherst Regional's Alex LaRaja, right, tries to make a move against two Needham defender Friday night at Worcester State University. Purchase photo reprints »
Reality sets in for Isaac Bass after Amherst's 1-0 loss to Needham in the state final friday night at Worcester State College. Purchase photo reprints »
Amherst's Jake Schrader contemplates what could have been after his team's heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Needham in the state final Friday night at Worcester State College. Purchase photo reprints »
WORCESTER — It took arguably the best player in the state and a bounce just inside the post, but the Amherst Regional boys soccer team finally gave up a postseason goal in a 1-0 loss to Needham in the state Division 1 championship game Friday night at Worcester State.
“Our defense really had us,” senior captain Cody Baglow said. The Rockets “are a big team. They had a lot of size up front and they are really scoring machines. Our defense did well to contain them and go toe-to-toe with them for 80 minutes. It’s really an accomplishment.”
Needham (21-1-3) scored in the 71st minute when 100-point scorer Mac Steeves got behind the defense to receive a high entry ball. With Hurricanes goalkeeper Curtis Barnes (nine saves) racing toward him, Steeves floated the ball high into their air just before the two players collided.
The ball bounced once on the goal line and just inside the left post right before senior defender Jaimon Olmstead could get to it.
“I’ll always regret not quite getting back there, but it’s pointless to think about,” Olmstead said. “I don’t think I could have gotten back there. It was real close. It just got in. It was probably a foot inside the post.”
Amherst (12-3-5), which had posted four straight shutouts in the postseason, saw its clean sheet end at 418 minutes, 32 seconds after holding off a terrific Needham offense anchored by its big 100-point scoring forward Steeves, who will play at Providence College next year.
“They are certainly a great team,” coach Michael Rudd said. “Their physicality, their speed, their touch, it was definitely a tremendous challenge. We played with heart and tried to play with conviction and did what we could do. They earned the win, but we were right there.”
Amherst turned away 10 Rocket corner kicks in the game and the entire back line of Isaac Bass, Jack Schrader, Keith Dixon and Olmstead stood out throughout the contest, along with defensive midfielders Erik Schleeweis and Baglow.
The state title game marked the final contest for seniors Brendan O’Connor, Nick Johnson, Bass, Olmstead, Baglow, Schleeweis, Schrader and Barnes.
“The eight seniors have been absolutely incredible. All of them,” Rudd said. “They’ve played such a vital role on the team this year at all levels. We are really going to miss them.”
On Friday, Needham carried possession for much of the game, pressuring Amherst’s passing attack throughout.
“We didn’t have the space that we normally have,” Rudd said. “They have great athletes and it was a little tough to generate the offense that we are used to generating. We knew it would be very difficult, but we gave ourselves a chance all the way up to the end.”
After going into halftime scoreless, Needham came out strong to start the second half, but the Hurricanes turned away consecutive corner kicks and took control on their offensive end for the next five minutes.
First, Eric Gooden split a pair of defenders with a through ball ahead to Mike Rock, who got to the ball a split second after goalie Kevin MacMillan (five saves) slid in to grab it in the 57th minute.
Gooden had two more nice passes over the next three minutes, but both times the defense swallowed up the resulting play.
Finally, Steeves, who had been well marked up top all game by Olmstead and Bass in the middle, found a hole and took advantage.
“I got beat a little bit. He was coming from behind me and from the left and you have to mark up there really well,” Olmstead said. “I gave him a couple yards and he snuck in behind and had a step. Curtis did a great job to come out and it was real close, but he made a good play. That’s what you are supposed to do, just get it up high over the keeper.”
Rudd had a good angle on the shot and knew it was going to be inside the post before it fell.
“That was a tough way to lose, with a goal like that,” he said. “The ball hung up there for like 10 minutes, but in the middle of that flight we knew it was going to go in, unfortunately.”
Steeves had to be helped off the field after the play, but returned minutes later and moved to the defensive end to help preserve the lead. Amherst picked up the pressure and Baglow had one last flip throw into the Hurricanes’ box in the closing seconds. Amherst couldn’t get a foot on the ball during the resulting scrum and Brandon Miskin finally cleared it just before the final whistle.
Getting to the state finals “is really huge. It’s a tradition we are building and I think everyone who is back next year is ready to keep it going forward,” Olmstead said. “I’m so proud of being on this team this year and being able to go further than any Amherst team has ever come. Second in the state. It’s a second-place medal, but it shows that we were the second best team in the state. That’s really nothing to be ashamed of.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.