The adage is that defense wins championships, and while the Bishop Hendricken soccer team certainly has a long way to go to claim a title, defense has at least already won a playoff game.
Hosting No. 11 Cumberland in the preliminary round of the Division I playoffs, sixth-seeded Hendricken got a standout defensive effort from its entire back line and got goals from three different players to knock off the Clippers 3-1 and advance to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
The game wasn’t put away until Lucas Gesmundo’s goal in the 79th minute, and if weren’t for the Hawks’ defense, it might never have been put away at all.
“It’s funny, because most of the time the forwards get all the glory,” Hendricken head coach Mickey Rooney said. “But I think anyone who knows anything about soccer knows tonight the defense came up huge.”
On multiple occasions throughout the night – especially late in the second half – Hendricken goalkeeper Dan Escobar came out of the goal to make a save, only to have the ball find its way to a Cumberland player with nothing but an open goal in front of him.
And every single time, the Hawks defensive group of Brady Chant, Anthony Graziano, Justin Matrone and John Hindinger – as well as the midfielders – were there to save the day and clear the ball.
“(Escobar) comes out and you don’t want to get in his way,” Chant said. “We’ve got to back him up. Anything goes wrong, you’ve got to be there.”
The Hawks held a 2-0 lead after a late first-half goal by Brennan Martin and an early second-half goal by Chris Cambio, but Cumberland threatened over and over to get the game back within a goal.
In the 60th minute, Cumberland’s Daniel Salazar-Herrera sent a free kick into the box and Dillon Grocholski got a head on a bouncing ball, sending it past Escobar. Chant was there, however, and one-timed the ball off the goal line out of bounds.
In the 73rd minute, it was a similar story. A ball skirted behind Escobar, but Chant was in the right place, sending it back down the field.
Eventually, however, after coming up empty so many times, the Clippers did get on the board. Trevor Lopes took a corner kick and sent a low pass to the front post, where Kyle Sutcliffe deftly turned and shot in one motion, cutting the score to 2-1.
“Two-zero is the worst score in soccer, because if they get a goal and it’s 2-1, the momentum swings to them,” Rooney said. “They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us and we’ve got to react. They stepped up tonight.”
The very next minute, Cumberland got possession again and nearly scored when Dillon Moran tried to back-foot a cross in front, but Escobar was there for the save. Then in the 79th minute, Escobar made a lunging stop to save a goal, but the ball went to Kyle Courtney. Staring at an open goal, he fired but Hendricken’s Alex Leite headed it away on the goal line to keep it a 2-1 game.
“I can’t count how many times it looked like it was going in and (John) Hindinger, or Brady, or Justin (Matrone) or Graz or some others kicked the ball off the line,” Rooney said.
Soon after, Hendricken put the game away. On a counter attack, Brennan Bica dribbled up the right side with space in front of him and crossed the ball to the far post. Gesmundo was there and he volleyed it off the post. The ball stayed in play and rolled in front of the goal, where Gesmundo knocked his own rebound into the net for the clincher.
“I thought it was going to get scrambled out, but fortunately we were able to put it in,” Rooney said. “It was good.”
Hendricken’s first goal came in the 38th minute, as Gesmundo took a free kick from just outside the box and curled it into the middle, where Martin was able to head it high into the net, past Cumberland goalie Michael DeCastro.
The Hawks carried that 1-0 lead into halftime before striking again in the 46th minute. Graziano threw a ball to midfield, where Brandon Silvestri won it and sent it toward the right corner flag. Bica ran under it and slipped a pass to Cambio in the middle, who beat DeCastro low and to the right for a 2-0 advantage.
“It’s great,” Chant said. “Last game we didn’t play that great. We came into this one, and we were hyped up. This is the playoffs.”
Escobar finished with five saves in net for Hendricken, while DeCastro finished with the same amount for Cumberland.
Hendricken will now travel to North Kingstown for a quarterfinal showdown with the Skippers on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. North is the No. 3 seed and went 11-2-1 during the regular season, including a 2-1 victory over the Hawks on Oct. 1
But the two teams usually play tight games, as evidenced by the last two times they met in the postseason – last year, 10th-seeded Hendricken upset No. 7 North 1-0 in the preliminary round. In 2010, the No. 6 Skippers beat the No. 3 Hawks 1-0 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
“We have to go in as the underdogs, and the pressure is all on North Kingstown now,” Rooney said. “We’ll see what happens.”