The first half of the season featured four losses, four ties and lots of frustration for the Pilgrim boys’ soccer team.
The second half of the season is already looking better.
Hosting Westerly on Tuesday afternoon, the Patriots rallied from a 1-0 deficit on the strength of two Dan LaPlante goals and held on for a 2-1 victory, their first league win of the year.
“They’ve been playing well lately,” said Pilgrim coach Bill Carroll. “They played well against Prout and we played Narragansett 1-0. I’ve told them, ‘That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.’ Just the fact that they won – it might take a monkey off their back now.”
The Pats were coming off a 2-2 tie against Prout last Thursday, and while that only added to the list of frustrating results, it was the kind of performance the team could build on.
“It’s been very frustrating,” said LaPlante, a senior forward. “But you know what? We’ve been playing hard and we’ve been doing what we can.”
On Tuesday, it finally paid off.
Westerly came in with a 2-4-2 record and jumped on top of Pilgrim 1-0 in the ninth minute of action. After Pilgrim had failed to clear a ball, Westerly’s Zach Webber got loose near the end line and slipped a pass to Greggory Garceau at the near post. Garceau struck a low shot that kicked off goalkeeper Matt McCabe’s feet and spun into the far end of the goal.
But the Pats, who had already generated a handful of chances, just kept coming.
Two minutes after the Westerly goal, Pilgrim’s Jordan DeSisto and Phil Tantimonico teamed up to get possession near midfield. Tantimonico then lofted a pass ahead to LaPlante, who settled it, turned and took off. After getting a step on his defender, LaPlante set up a shot and ripped it into the left side of the goal.
Fourteen minutes later, LaPlante struck again on an almost identical goal. Pilgrim won a ball in the midfield and LaPlante ended up with it. As he started carrying the ball upfield, two defenders converged, but he split them, kept going and hit another laser that found the net.
“We’ve been constantly working on breakaways in practice because that was my weakness,” LaPlante said. “I got up there and did what I had to do. I went over the ball and did what I did at practice.”
The 2-1 lead looked destined to grow through the rest of the first half. Just a minute after LaPlante’s second goal, Luis Pimental got loose on the right side and put a big shot on net. Goalie Cooper Ferreira made a leaping, one-handed save to keep it a 2-1 game.
DeSisto had a breakaway a few minutes later but came up empty. LaPlante got loose again in the 30th minute, but this time his shot skipped wide. Then, just before halftime, Devon Crespin put a shot on net from the left side but saw it get saved.
Those missed opportunities were the only negative for the Pats.
“If we took the chances we had in the first half, then we would have been on easy street,” Carroll said. “We don’t make a big percentage of them. Consequently, we keep ourselves under pressure.”
But on this day, the Pats were up to it. Westerly had the better of the action in the final 25 minutes, getting seven corner kicks, three free kicks and a handful of other chances. But McCabe stood strong in net, and defenders DeSisto, Christian White, Ian Giuttari and Travis Medeiros helped clamp down.
When all was said and done, the Pats could finally breathe easy.
“Coming back from 1-0 down was good,” Carroll said. “They didn’t put their heads down and we came back and got two good goals. LaPlante took them real well. I was happy. Frustrated but happy.”
The Pats are hoping the victory can be the start of a second-half resurgence. Because they’ve tied so many games, their winless first half didn’t put them out of contention. They’re currently tied with Westerly for seventh place in Division II-South, just two points out of fifth.
“We needed this,” LaPlante said. “This is going to change our season. The first half of the season was down, but now we’ve started the second half and we’re going to keep playing hard.”