The Bishop Hendricken soccer team was rarely overmatched in games this year, but it also didn’t win very many, as the Hawks could never generate consistent offense.
Playing in the quarterfinal round of the Division I playoffs on Saturday against second-seeded La Salle, No. 10 Hendricken played one of its better games of the year.
But the script never changed.
The Hawks generated plenty of chances and got their usual stellar defensive play, but they couldn’t quite get over the hump. Danny Apajee’s goal in the 64th minute gave the Rams a 1-0 lead, and they added another goal late as Hendricken pushed its players forward in search of the equalizer.
The result was a frustrating 2-0 loss, while La Salle avoided the upset and advanced to the semifinals. The Rams were 10-1-3 during the regular season.
“We’ve had a real bizarre journey this year,” Hendricken head coach Mickey Rooney said. “Our record is not indicative of how we’ve been playing. Most games, we’ve had time of possession but we just couldn’t score. This game I thought was indicative of the whole season.”
Hendricken had to rally late in the regular season simply to make the playoffs, as it tied South Kingstown 1-1 and finally broke out offensively against Woonsocket in a 7-0 win to capture the No. 10 seed.
Still, even with that seven-goal performance, the Hawks scored only 10 goals throughout the entire year. They finished 3-8-3, having endured a seven-game scoreless streak at one point.
But they were always competitive, and once they got into the playoffs they were hoping to finally find their rhythm.
Last Thursday, the Hawks opened the postseason against No. 7 North Kingstown in the preliminary round and pulled off a thrilling 1-0 victory to advance.
In a regular-season meeting with the Skippers, the Hawks lost 4-0, but this time they battled through a scoreless first half and took a lead early in the second. In the 46th minute, Paul Phillips took a corner kick from the right side. When it was cleared back out to him, he lofted a pass to the middle of the box where a wide-open Brandon Silvestri headed it into the net.
From there, the Hawks had to withstand a barrage from the Skippers, but they were up to the task. Goalie Matt Creamer made seven saves, including two consecutive stops on a golden opportunity in the final 10 minutes. Creamer first dove to knock a cross off course. With the rebound sitting in the box, Adam Corey ran onto a big shot but Creamer dove and tipped the ball away.
That win provided some momentum heading into the quarterfinals against La Salle, and Hendricken came in confident.
The Hawks used their defensive style to frustrate La Salle, as the Rams held possession for much of the early going but rarely had any actual opportunities to score.
“We had a hard time playing our style of soccer,” La Salle head coach Mario Pereira said. “They were very aggressive, they close the ball down very quickly, and they cause a lot of problems putting a lot of people behind the ball.”
Toward the end of the first half, the Hawks became slightly more aggressive, getting a good shot from Christian Kirby that La Salle keeper Alex Padilla dove on and a corner with time winding down.
But the game was scoreless at the break, playing into Hendricken’s favor.
In the second half, the two teams traded possession early on before the game truly started to heat up.
In the 53rd minute, Apajee was taken down in the box and La Salle was given a penalty kick. Gregory Forgue stepped up to take it, but Creamer read it perfectly and dove to his left to stop the ball.
“He made some really good saves,” Rooney said of Creamer. “He’s been progressing. He hasn’t been playing soccer very long. Each game he’s getting stronger and bigger and better. And that just instills confidence in the defense as well.”
At the time, it was the biggest play in a game, and the momentum started to shift toward the Hawks.
Six minutes after Creamer’s save, Hendricken had its best opportunity of the day. Phillips took a long throw in from the left side, and the ball sailed all the way into the La Salle box.
Shane Davidson jumped up and connected on a near-perfect header. The ball looked ticketed for the top-right corner of the goal, but Padilla somehow jumped up and tipped the ball over the crossbar for a miraculous save.
“Alex is the best goalkeeper in the state,” Pereira said. “The type of soccer that we play, he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to shine. If he was on a team where he took a lot of activity, he would have all the numbers that all these other keepers have.”
On the ensuing corner kick, the Hawks again nearly scored, but Christian Leonard’s header sailed wide.
La Salle had come away unscathed.
“It was always going to be the first team to score was going to win,” Rooney said. “[Padilla] made a great save. Then from the corner we had a cross and it was unfortunate – the keeper was beaten. We just missed.”
Minutes later, Creamer made another highlight-reel save of his own, as he dove to keep Trevor Torres’ header out of the net.
But in the 64th minute, the Rams delivered a crushing blow. Derek Blanchette sent a bending ball into the box, and it was tipped ahead of the defense by Alex DaCosta.
Apajee raced to it and touched it to the right of Creamer to break the scoreless tie and put La Salle up 1-0.
“He’s a tough match-up,” Rooney said of Apajee. “He’s a nice player.”
Already a physical game, things ramped up for the final 16 minutes as Hendricken searched for a game-tying goal. As hard as they pushed, though, the Hawks came up empty.
And in the 73rd minute, the Rams finished the job. Apajee started a push up the middle, and he set up Torres on the left of the box. Torres made a cross to DaCosta, who calmly trapped the ball and kicked it home on the right side, making it 2-0.
“We were in it,” Rooney said. “We had to push forward when it was 1-0, and that opened up to make it two. I’m disappointed, not in the effort they gave, but I’m disappointed in the result.”
Hendricken sent two long free kicks into the box over the final eight minutes, but Padilla kept the Hawks out of the goal until the game – and Hendricken’s strange season – came to a close.
Despite the offensive struggles all year, the Hawks nearly found themselves in the state’s semifinals.
“It was funny,” Rooney said. “We weren’t the biggest team, we weren’t the quickest team, we were just a team that needed to play together and believe. They believed in themselves and they worked hard all year. In all my years of playing and coaching, I’ve never seen a season like this one. We just couldn’t score a goal.”
The Hawks will bid farewell to six seniors – Davidson, Aiden White, Daniel Levesque, Brexton Kinney, Phillips and Kyle Santos.
La Salle will play No. 3 Central Falls in the semifinals on Tuesday at Cranston Stadium at 8 p.m.