Toll Gate won the Warwick city championship in the preseason, but when the Titans took the field Thursday for their first league match-up against a city rival, their reign didn’t last.
A hard-charging Pilgrim team out-played the previously unbeaten Titans and came away with a 2-1 victory. It was the first win of the year for the Patriots, who improved to 1-3-1. Toll Gate fell to 3-1-1.
“You’ve got to play well at this level and we did not play well,” said Toll Gate coach Tim Hayes. “And Pilgrim made us not play well. Hat’s off to Pilgrim. I thought they out-played us for 80 minutes. We had a few-minute stretch there where we played well, but they shut it down, it got hard and we couldn’t figure it out.”
For the Pats, it was a good time to break through. They figured to struggle some this year, but the effort has been tremendous at every stop. Until Thursday, they had come up empty.
“We’ve deserved a couple of wins,” said Pilgrim head coach Bill Carroll. “We played Narragansett better, Mt. Pleasant we could have gotten a win out of. I think we just came to play today and they didn’t. We got to more balls and put the effort in a bit more. I was happy with the win. It’s nice to get it off our back anyway.”
Travis Medeiros scored both goals for the Pats, including the eventual game-winner on a free kick in the 67th minute. The Pilgrim defense led by David Saran, Devin Ramos, Chris Ray and Matthew Giuttari did the rest.
“They’ve deserved more than what they’ve got,” Carroll said. “The work rate has really been good from them. Our skill is not what it could be and they know it, and we’ve got to make up for it with work rate and organization.”
The Pats did that from the start on Thursday, controlling possession and limiting Toll Gate’s chances for much of the first half. The Titans made a push midway through, but Pilgrim goalie Liam Strain made a full-extension, diving save on a shot by Josh Sandin in the 21st minute, holding off Toll Gate’s best chance.
Late in the half, Pilgrim broke the ice. Devon Crespin hit a cross that got past Toll Gate goalie Kyle Brown. Medeiros was waiting for it on the other side and punched in a shot for the 1-0 lead.
It was a just reward for a half of solid play.
“That’s what I love about my guys,” Medeiros said. “We may not be the best-skilled team but we’re always working hard. I love them to death. We play great.”
The Titans regrouped at halftime and came out firing. In the 45th minute, Sandin tied the game when he dribbled through a double-team at the top of the box, hit the post and knocked in the rebound.
After a stretch of back-and-forth action, though, Pilgrim reasserted itself. The Pats clamped down on Toll Gate and again started to control possession.
“They’re tough,” Hayes said. “They’ve got a lot of big bodies who get back, and if you don’t play the right ball, you’re not going to score. They forced us into a lot of bad passes.”
Saran, Ramos and Ray, in particular, used their physical style to keep the Titans’ usually potent attack at bay.
“We played well at the back,” Carroll said. “We haven’t given up many goals. We’re solid at the back. We changed a couple of things around just to contain them a little more.”
Still, the game was tied and the Titans were ready to break out at any moment. Instead, Pilgrim grabbed the lead.
In the 67th minute, Medeiros took a free kick from about 40 yards out. With Brown squinting into a cloudless sky, Medeiros put it on net, and the ball sailed just over Brown for a goal.
“I already had one goal in the beginning and I thought, ‘Why not go for two?’” Medeiros said. “Maybe it was a little greedy, but it worked out.”
The Titans had the better of the action over the final 10 minutes but couldn’t net the equalizer. Strain made a big save in the 70th minute and two shots sailed high.
“It’s a relief – it shows us good signs, good things,” Medeiros said. “We’ve got a great group of guys and I’m really excited to continue the season with them.”
Both teams were scheduled to be back in action on Monday, with Pilgrim hoping to build on the momentum and Toll Gate trying to regroup.
“We’ve got to have the mentality that we’re going to go out and fix it,” Hayes said. “There are things we can fix. We can play better. We can have a better effort. They have to come out and say, ‘This is not who we are.’ A tough, physical team can make you look like that. This is not the last time we’re going to see a team like this. If we don’t solve it, we’re not going to be successful.”