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South Hadley boys soccer takes down Cathedral in Division 2 quarterfinals

SPRINGFIELD — In the first playoff victory for the South Hadley boys soccer team Friday, Ryan Dickinson helped set up Nate Flachs for a pair of goals.

The script was flipped but the outcome the same for the Tigers Monday night in their 2-1 Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament quarterfinal win over Cathedral.

Playing a completely unfamiliar former Division 1 power, two Dickinson goals and two Flachs assists led the Tigers to the upset at Central High School’s Berte Field.

“We’ve never even seen” Cathedral, South Hadley coach Jij Mercer said. “We didn’t even know they’d be in Division 2 until the seeds came out. Usually we do a good job scouting, but we never watched them. Cathedral showed a ton of fight, but I’m glad we’re the ones walking away with a win.”

No. 7 South Hadley (12-5-3) will face No. 3 Monument Mountain (15-2-2) in Wednesday’s semifinals at a location and time to be announced. Monument defeated No. 6 Hampshire Regional 2-0 on Monday.

“That’s a great team we were able to beat,” Dickinson said. “They play a D1 schedule, and most of the D1 teams are very physical. So it was crazy out there, but we were a able to battle through.”

With the game tied 1-1 at halftime, South Hadley regained the lead just over two minutes into the second half. Flachs headed a perfect pass to Dickinson, who outmuscled the Cathedral defender for a shot that went to the upper-left corner.

“We needed that goal to get back the momentum and carry it through,” Dickinson said. “Getting the lead back really pushed us forward. I wanted to get in position in front of the defender, then it was just me and the keeper and I put it over him.”

South Hadley hung on over the final 37-plus minutes by keeping the Panthers out of the middle from the 18s in. Just over seven minutes into the second half, the Tigers withstood a heavy Cathedral flurry.

Keeper Eric Maryea, who finished with eight saves, made one diving stop in each half. His save off a corner with 11:20 left preserved the lead.

A few minutes before that, senior Chris Larrow broke up a solid opportunity.

“That was a nerve-wracking game, especially for our guys who don’t have a lot of tournament experience,” Mercer said. “But in the end, it’s about senior leadership from guys like Chris and Dimitri Kastrinakis. They didn’t have a whole lot of chances in the second half, and Eric looked very comfortable in that situation.”

The teams spent the early stages feeling each other out before South Hadley broke through on its third shot of the game.

From midfield, Flachs sent a ball up the middle that Dickinson was able to run down. He one-touched the ball and beat both a defender and goalie Collin Ford (eight saves), who came out to cut the play off. Once Dickinson had control, he slid it into the wide-open net.

“I saw the goalie come out a little early off his line, so I tried to play it past him,” Dickinson said. “It was a great ball by Nate, right between the two defenders. At that point, I had to get past them.”

“It’s pretty funny that it went the other way around (from Friday),” said Mercer. “The first pass by Nate was first-class, a beautiful ball. The second goal showed Ryan’s guts, he just wanted it a little more.”

Twice Dickinson very nearly gave the Tigers an insurance tally and completed a hat trick, but missed by mere feet on both shots. He also had an open first-half shot but Ford made a sprawling save.

After he delivered for South Hadley on the attack, Dickinson dropped back to help out on defense in the final 10 minutes of regulation.

“I’ve done that before but not this season,” Dickinson said. “Coach told me that I might head back to a midfield spot to just win balls to help relieve the pressure and get it out of the middle.”

The No. 2 Panthers (7-6-5) put on a major push after the first South Hadley tally and found the equalizer with exactly eight minutes remaining in the half.

Ryan Reynolds blistered a shot past Maryea from 25 yards out to make it 1-1. The Tigers needed to put two and even three players on both Reynolds and Milano Kuku, who picked up an assist on the goal.

“We were really worried about (Reynolds), and the goal he scored was top-notch,” Mercer said. “But we did a really nice job on him in the second half.”

Cathedral had a pair of glowing opportunities to take a halftime lead. With just over three minutes left, Joe Christofori received a pass on the right side of the cage, but Cam Dellatorre broke up the play. About a minute later, Reynolds made a strong run up the left side and tried to hit the far side, but his shot slid just wide.

The South Hadley program reaches the sectional semifinals for the third consecutive season, but this particular team doesn’t have a lot of tournament experience.

“To get to the semifinals, that’s shocking for me,” Mercer said. “We graduated 13 tremendous players last season, so this group really isn’t used to getting to this point. I’m really happy for them, they’re such a great group of kids to coach. They’re all willing to learn their role and play it to their best.”

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

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