By Mal Boright
October 31, 2013
Nothing comes easy in the Division 1 boys’ soccer playdown season.
The defending champion Champlain Valley Union High Redhawks are heading for another title game Saturday at Burlington High’s artificial turf thanks to a tough, 1-0 home semifinal victory Tuesday over visiting St. Johnsbury Academy.
Now 16-1, top-seeded CVU will tangle with second-seeded Colchester High (14-2-1), game time to be announced by the Vermont Principals Association.
The Redhawks nipped the Lakers 1-0 (that score again!) at Colchester in their lone regular season meeting.
Colchester gained the championship game for the first time since 1999 with a 2-1 double overtime victory at home over third-seeded Hartford High Tuesday.
St. Johnsbury, which handed the Redhawks their lone defeat 2-1 at Hinesburg Sept.27, was expected to be a tough out and certainly was.
The lone goal came with just over 32 minutes remaining in the second half when CVU’s co-captain Joe Castano knocked in the rebound of a hard driving shot from Richard Baccei.
“I had called for the ball from Richard, but he shot it,” said Castano. “The rebound came to me with a little backspin on it. I just shot without looking.”
After CVU grabbed the lead, the Hilltoppers came back hard, taking an edge in territorial play.
“We bent but we didn’t break during the 30-minute onslaught,” said Redhawks coach T.J. Mead. “They (St. Johnsbury) had a lot of possession.”
CVU’s back defensive four of Tripp Moreton, Deagan Poland, Zack Evans and Cooper O’Connell formed a bulwark that kept the visitors from any point blank open shots on goalie Brandon O’Connell, who made six stops in recording the ‘Hawks 12th shutout of 2013.
Evans was the Howitzer Foot, his clearing kicks from in front of the CVU goal of epic distance that continually drove the Hilltoppers back beyond midfield.
“I practice that a lot,” said Evans, a co-captain credited by Mead as a brainy leader of the defense.
Both Evans and Castano recognized St. Johnsbury as being an excellent team that allowed the Redhawks precious few opportunities.
Hilltopper goalie Zaga Soloman had five stops, one of them in the second half involving a high leap to knock out a shot from CVU’s Nolan Jimmo.
St. Johnsbury, which brought five busloads of followers who made plenty of noise during proceedings, finished with a 13-3-1 record in an attempt to gain the championship game for the first time.
“I’m glad to see them (Hilltoppers) in the Metro Division,” said Mead. “That’s a good team and well coached.”
It was the ‘Hawks’ ninth straight triumph since the Hilltoppers laid a licking on them.
It was the second straight tense thriller for CVU in the title pursuit. Last Friday, the Redhawks and Burlington High went well into the second overtime before Chris Reiss broke through a difficult BHS defense to score the lone tally in the, yes, 1-0 win. Zach Akey drew an assist.