In the postseason for the first time since 2008, the Warwick Vets boys’ soccer team didn’t waste that opportunity last week.
The ’Canes did something that no Vets team had done in seven years, grabbing the reigns in a 3-1 preliminary round victory over Scituate on Wednesday for the program’s first playoff win since the 2005 season.
But the No. 8 seeded ’Canes ran into a championship-minded, top-seeded Exeter-West Greenwich team on Sunday in the Division III quarterfinals and saw their season come to an end with a 5-1 loss to the Scarlet Knights.
“They have more weapons then we do,” Vets head coach Mike Kenney said. “My kids, they gave us everything they had. It was a tough year. We went further then any team ahead of them has in a while. To get to the quarterfinals and lose to the No.1 seed, there’s no shame in that.”
The game was 2-1 through 53 minutes, and Vets was riding a wave of momentum after Brad Robert scored on a penalty kick in the 47th.
Over the last 27 minutes, though, EWG came alive, scoring three goals and coasting to the win.
As a team that went 12-0-2 and outscored its opponents 48-8 during the regular season, the Scarlet Knights simply had another gear that the ’Canes couldn’t quite match.
“I think that made it a little more real,” EWG head coach Matt Savoie said of Robert’s goal. “At 2-0, you’re comfortable; 2-1, not so much. They had to pick it up a level. It is what it is. They played well.”
J.P. Connolly and Mark Christofaro each had two goals for EWG, while Jack Livsey had the other.
And while the score looks lopsided, the ’Canes were very much in the game until the Scarlet Knights turned on the jets.
“The boys played well,” Kenney said. “I’m proud of them.”
Vets nearly took a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the game, as Justin Batista got loose behind the EWG defense and had a clean look at the goal.
Batista’s shot wasn’t quite hit cleanly, however, and EWG keeper Benjamin Andrews was able to scoop it up without a problem.
“Justin had that breakaway, if he could stuff that maybe it’s a different momentum thing,” Kenney said.
Two minutes later, EWG was in the same position, as Livsey found himself all alone with Vets keeper Mike Riccitelli. Livsey hit the ball solidly, but Riccitelli made a sprawling save to his left, keeping the game scoreless.
“That first three minutes of the game, with a one-on-one for each team,” Savoie said. “Any one of those could have changed the game for either team.”
After that, both defenses settled in until the Scarlet Knights struck in the 13th minute. Livsey took a throw-in and sent the ball into the box from the right side. Connolly controlled it and touched it past Riccitelli for a 1-0 lead.
“They work really hard,” Savoie said. “The forwards, the rotation forwards, they work hard. There’s no ball they won’t try to run down. They make some great shots.”
Down only a goal, Vets kept pushing, Dylan Robert took a shot from 18 yards out two minutes later that Andrews knocked down, and in the 26th minute Brad Robert sent a free kick to the box that Will Hay just missed heading towards the net.
The half ended with EWG ahead by the lone goal, but it made it 2-0 just three minutes into the second half when Connolly beat Riccitelli to a ball at the front of the box and headed it over the charging keeper for a goal.
It looked like that second goal might sink Vets, but the ’Canes kept coming. In the 47th minute, Dylan Robert was taken down in the box and Brad Robert came up from the defense to take the penalty kick. He easily buried in the right side, cutting EWG’s lead to 2-1.
Suddenly, Vets was right back in it. Five minutes later, Batista got a clean look but again didn’t quite connect, and it rolled harmlessly to Andrews.
Then, EWG flipped the switch.
Off a throw in, Christofaro slipped behind Vets’ defense and pounded a shot just inside the left-post from a tough angle that beat Riccitelli for a back-breaking goal.
Three minutes later, on a counter-attack, Livsey found himself all alone and he calmly scored. In 10 minutes, Vets had gone from potentially tying the score to trailing 4-1.
“For a couple minutes there it looked like it was going to go our way, and then they grabbed it back,” Kenney said. “They beat us pretty good last time we played them, and that’s in the back of the kids’ heads. And then we saw when they went up by a couple goals that it’s hard to get back in it against a good team.”
At that point, there was little the ’Canes could do. Christofaro scored on a header in the 61st minute to make it 5-1 and that’s how the game remained until the final whistle.
The loss brought an end to a resurgent season for Vets, which hadn’t won a game since the 2009 season prior to this year. Even in that 2009 season it only won once.
This season, it won six games and earned a playoff victory. Nikone Soupharath, Dylan Robert and Tyler Oliveira all scored in the win over Scituate, lifting Vets to a place it hadn’t been in quite a while.
“The kids were excited to be in the playoffs for the first time, and we rode it,” Kenney said.
The ’Canes will say goodbye to three seniors off this year’s team, and they’re all key pieces. Hay and Dylan Robert will graduate, as will Cody Sullivan, who was hurt for much of the second half of the season.
Everybody else should be back.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Kenney said. “They did a nice job. It’s a good group of kids. But we’ll regroup, realign and start again August 20.”