Tim Hayes knew that it might take only one goal for his Toll Gate boys’ soccer team to get past Moses Brown in the Division II quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon, but even getting that far is a brutal task against the Quakers. Moses Brown allowed a state-low seven goals during the regular season.
Now it’s allowed one more, and the Titans are moving on to the semifinals.
Nathan DaCosta’s impressive goal in the 35th minute broke a scoreless tie and the Toll Gate defense did the rest as the Titans earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory and a match-up with Coventry on Wednesday in the semis. That game will be played at 7 p.m. at Cranston Stadium.
“It was a tough game,” DaCosta said. “They’re a good team defensively. We got an opportunity and we put it in. That’s all it took.”
The Titans were already in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history, and the playoff win made it even better. Toll Gate will play in the semifinals for the first time since losing to Mt. Hope in the D-I semifinals in 2002. They haven’t been to a final since winning the D-I-B title in 1990.
Seeded third after an 8-2-5 regular season, Toll Gate got a bye through the preliminary rounds, while No. 6 Moses Brown beat Smithfield to set up Saturday’s showdown. During the regular season, Toll and Moses Brown tied 0-0.
“Moses Brown defends us so well,” Toll Gate head coach Tim Hayes said. “They’re one of the hardest teams to break down. Every time you turn around there are four defenders back. They defend deep, they’re very, very smart, they’re very organized and they’re all strong. It’s so hard to get space.”
That was the story for much of the first half. Toll Gate maintained possession, but couldn’t seem to break down Moses Brown’s group at the back end. Jose Beltran crossed a ball that was caught by keeper Ross Sigal in the eighth minute, and he sent a shot just wide in the 10th minute.
Later, on two different occasions, Beltran sent through balls to fellow forward Josh Sandin, only to have Sigal win the race to the ball and send it away with no damage.
In the 25th minute, Sandin dribbled in the box and was taken down, but no penalty was called.
Frustration began to mount, but the Titans still thought that they would break through the Quakers’ wall eventually.
“It is frustrating,” DaCosta said. “It takes a while to get one. But once you get it in it’s a good feeling.”
And Toll Gate finally got one just before halftime. Kyle McGuire started the attack with a pass from midfield to Sandin, who dribbled toward the middle of the box. He popped it up to DaCosta, who was to his left, and DaCosta corralled the ball, made a move past a defender and connected on a high, hard shot into the top of the net.
“He’s been working hard all year,” Hayes said of DaCosta. “He hasn’t scored as much as he likes. He’s been in position, but it just hasn’t really come. Today he just made the play.”
With scoring another goal on Moses Brown unlikely – it gave up two goals in a game just once during the regular season – the Titans set out to protect the lead, and did so to perfection.
While the Quakers tried to press up to get the equalizer in the second half, Toll Gate’s group of Andrew Rocchio, James Meizoso, Corey Favino and McGuire wouldn’t budge. In the 55th minute, Moses Brown’s most explosive player, Julio Barroso, found himself free with only Favino in between himself and a breakaway, but Favino held his ground and stole the ball, ending the threat.
Goalkeeper Ezequiel Franco also did his part, making five saves, with his biggest coming in the 65th minute. Moses Brown had a corner kick and sent a ball toward the middle of the box with a good shot at a header, but Franco rushed out and dove at the ball, catching it and going to the ground.
“Second half our defense stepped up, our midfield stepped up and cleared the ball,” DaCosta said. “We kept it on their half most of the half and pulled out the win.”
Moses Brown continued to pressure throughout the second half, but its chances were few and far between. Toll Gate created a few chances of its own – with Sandin firing an open shot over the net in the 75th minute as one example – but it didn’t need another goal.
One was enough.
“These are the games we’re going to have to win,” Hayes said.
Wednesday is the next challenge. Coventry is the No. 2 seed, and beat Toll Gate 4-2 in the last game of the regular season on Oct. 24.
In that game, though, the Titans were playing without Sandin – their leading scorer – and also juggled the lineup some because it was Senior Night. Still, they held a lead on two separate occasions but just couldn’t quite finish off the game.
They hope it’s different this time around.
“We’re very confident,” DaCosta said. “This is the one year that Toll Gate can actually win this.”
Coventry beat Mt. Hope 4-1 in its quarterfinal game. Top-seeded Lincoln and No. 4 Providence Country Day are squaring off in the other semifinal, which will be played at Cranston Stadium before Toll Gate’s game, at 5 p.m.
The Division II finals are scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rhode Island College.