Warwick Vets and Lincoln played 80 minutes of soccer Tuesday night. The Hurricanes were happy with almost all of it, but unfortunately for them, the first few seconds made the difference on the scoreboard.
Hailee Jarry’s goal just 26 seconds into the game was the only tally of the night as the first-place Lions won 1-0. It was the second straight loss for the ’Canes but they came away from it feeling okay. For 79 minutes, they were step-for-step with the best team in Division II.
“I told them I’m extremely proud of the way we played today,” said Vets head coach Fred Schweizer. “It’s a positive for us moving to the playoffs. They should be proud of the way they battled from the start to the finish – 26 seconds was the difference and I’ll take that right now, at this point of the season.”
The ’Canes are now 9-4 and their 27 points are good for fourth place in Division II. Lincoln leads with 35 points while Pilgrim and Burrillville are tied for second with 31 points.
A week ago, Vets had designs on a different spot. The ’Canes beat Pilgrim for their biggest victory in years last week but haven’t been able to follow it up with another win. They lost to Westerly 2-1 last Thursday before the 1-0 loss to Lincoln.
But while the losses have impacted the standings, they haven’t changed the way Schweizer feels about his team.
“They’re a group that’s going to work hard and not stop until we’re done,” Schweizer said. “I feel good about our chances and the way we’re playing right now. Yeah, two losses, but one of them was against an undefeated team and we played well.”
It just so happened that the ’Canes had to play well while playing from behind. Lincoln had possession to start the game, and when Vets couldn’t control a 50-50 ball on the left side, Jarry got just enough space to blast a shot on net from the top of the box. It sailed over the out-stretched hands of Vets goalie Katelen Pick for a 1-0 lead.
“We allowed her to turn,” Schweizer said. “With a player like that, she’s going to take advantage of that opportunity. That was an adjustment we needed to make, knowing when you can win a 50/50 ball and knowing when you need to contain. She gathered the ball, was able to turn and she finished. That’s what good scorers do.”
The ’Canes were quickly back on their heels – but not willing to pack it in.
“That could have been devastating,” Schweizer said. “You come out against an undefeated team and give up a goal 26 seconds in? That could have changed the game right there. But they regrouped and they stepped up.”
While it didn’t lead to a win, Vets’ performance the rest of the way was reason for optimism. Pick made 20 saves in net, including a leaping tip on a hard shot late in the first half.
The Vets defense had to turn Lincoln away multiple times early in the second half, clearing the ball every time on a string of four corners in seven minutes. After that, the tide started to turn and Vets went for it, moving one of its four defenders up to forward. That generated some chances, the best of which came in the 72nd minute on a bouncing shot by Lauren Almonte. Goalie Lauren Hervieux corralled it for one of her 12 saves.
“They’re a good passing team, and in the first half, we were in transition defensively a lot,” Schweizer said. “We weren’t filling gaps and moving forward and backward as a unit. When we got the ball and tried to play it forward, there was nothing there. That’s why we made the adjustment to go to three forwards. We had a lot of chances after that.”
Ultimately, the comeback bid fell short, but Vets still took some positives away.
“I just told them – 79 minutes and however many seconds of great soccer,” Schweizer said. “We battled all night. When you come into a game like this against a team that’s undefeated, it’s very easy to be intimidated and they weren’t. Lincoln’s a solid team. I think we proved we can play with them.”
Vets will quickly turn its attention to Thursday’s season finale against Ponaganset. If the ’Canes win that game, they’ll finish in the top four and have a first-round bye for the playoffs.
“We just have to get ready for the next goal, and that’s Ponaganset on Thursday,” Schweizer said. “I believe if we win, we get a first-round bye. That’s the goal at this point.”
Thursday’s game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Ponaganset. The playoffs begin with the preliminary round on Tuesday.