The Warwick Vets boys’ soccer team had already clinched the No. 8 seed in the Division III playoffs prior to Friday’s season finale at Burillville, but the ’Canes still wanted to finish out strong.
And on the heels of three consecutive losses, Vets got the type of performance it was looking for against the Broncos, battling to a 1-1 tie.
While it didn’t make a difference in the standings, simply getting back on track prior to the postseason was an important step for the ’Canes, who will be making their first playoff appearance since 2008.
“They settled down today,” Vets head coach Mike Kenney said. “I told them before the game, no stressing this one. I had some guys at different positions. I put Will [Hay] in middle, I had Nikone [Soupharath] up front. They relaxed a little bit and they played well. This is how we can play. If we play like this we’re going to do okay.”
Vets was in position to finish significantly higher in the standings as recently as two weeks ago, but the three-game slide – and losses in four of five games – dropped them down.
It started on Oct. 12, when the ’Canes lost 5-0 to North Smithfield before beating Scituate 2-1. Vets then lost to Cranston East, Exeter/West Greenwich and Davies, and the team fell below .500.
Against Davies on Thursday, the ’Canes lost 7-1. That’s why tying Burrillville – which is the No. 5 seed in the playoffs at 7-3-4 – felt so big. Vets finished the season at 6-6-1.
“It’s there, you’ve just got to put it together,” Kenney said. “It was good to do it against a good team too. I’m more than happy with the point.”
The game was scoreless throughout much of the first half, as neither team could do much with the few chances they had. Burrillville’s Michael D’Antuano hit the cross bar in the 22nd minute, while Vets had four corners in the first 25 minutes.
Finally, in the 30th minute, the ’Canes found the back of the net. Hay made a move on the right side of the box, drew the defense toward him and then sent a pass back to the middle to a wide open Dylan Robert.
Robert took a hard shot that was saved by keeper Blake Boutiette on a dive, but the ball deflected towards the far post. Vets’ Justin Batista was rushing the goal and easily kicked the ball in for a 1-0 lead.
“We played yesterday and we didn’t play well,” Kenney said. “Today was much better.”
Early in the second half, though, Burrillville tied the score.
A long throw in by Alex Milletts went all the way to the middle of the box, and D’Antuano was there to knock it in with his body to tie the score.
The throw-in caught Vets off-guard initially, as Burrillville didn’t feature the long throw at all in the first half.
For the remainder of the half, the ’Canes were prepared, and they routinely cleared the dangerous throw-ins.
“What a weapon,” Kenney said. “It caught us by surprise. I had a feeling, down this end. I said wait until we see it down there. That’s going to catch a lot of people by surprise. At one point they got a corner kick and I said, ‘Good.’”
Burrillville kept the pressure up for the most of the second half, but Vets’ defense held strong in front of goalkeeper Mike Riccitelli.
And when a ball did get through, Riccitelli was there to make the save. He made a diving save on a point blank shot in the 53rd minute, and he kept out a goal in the 72nd on a charging save in which he beat a Burrillville player to the ball at the top of the box.
“Mike’s had a solid year,” Kenney said. “He’s improved. He worked real hard at it in the off-season and it shows this year.”
Now the ’Canes will try to build on the performance in the postseason. They are scheduled to take on the No. 9 seed, Scituate, in Warwick in the preliminary round, with date and time still to be announced..
The one time the two teams played during the regular season, on Oct. 15, Vets won 2-1. Scituate went 5-6-3 during the season.
The winner of that game will take on top-seeded Exeter-West Greenwich in the quarterfinals.
Vets has not had a playoff victory since 2005.
“They’re a funny group,” Kenney said. “Some days I think they’re ready for it, other days I don’t and they come out and do the opposite.”