On Thursday, the Toll Gate boys’ soccer team beat Woonsocket 2-1 in overtime for the program’s first playoff victory since 2002. It was a major milestone but as the Titans tried for another on Saturday, their quest went off the rails.
Locked in a 1-1 tie with top-seeded Smithfield in a D-II quarterfinal, the Titans went down a man 20 minutes into the game when goalie Josh Giarrantano was ejected for throwing a punch in the midst of a scrum in front of the net. Toll Gate managed to hold off Smithfield for a while and even took a 2-1 lead, but the Sentinels ultimately had too much and scored three second-half goals to hand the Titans a 4-2 loss.
While Toll Gate can still take pride in its most successful season in a decade, the way it ended left a bitter taste.
“It’s unfortunate it had to end that way,” said Toll Gate coach Tim Hayes. “It was just a mess. I really think, if we’re 11-on-11, we could have beaten them. I think we at least could have gotten it to overtime and then taken a shot.”
Instead the Titans went home. A loss wasn’t unexpected – Smithfield went undefeated in the regular season and hadn’t trailed in a single game all year – but getting close only to see the game unravel made it a hard pill to swallow.
“We played really well otherwise,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, we just never really got that positive momentum back.”
Jose Beltran gave the Titans a 1-0 lead early in the first half, putting the Sentinels behind for the first time all year. They came back quickly to tie it at 1-1, though, and soon after, the Titans found themselves behind the eight ball after the red card. Oscar Morales replaced Giarrantano in goal, but the Titans would have to play with just nine field players for the remaining 60 minutes.
Despite that, the score stayed tied for the rest of the first half. Then, 12 minutes into the second half, Beltran scored his second goal to give the Titans an improbable lead.
But dreams of an upset soon faded as Smithfield finally busted through for three goals.
That marked the end of the line for the Titans.
“We managed to hang in there for a while,” Hayes said. “But Smithfield is too good to play with 10 players. It took them a while, but they eventually figured it out. They put a lot of pressure on us.”
Toll Gate had gotten to the quarterfinals thanks to a dramatic victory over Woonsocket in a preliminary-round game. The Titans controlled the action in the first half of that one and broke through for a goal in the 27th minute. Sophomore David Moreno-Garcia scored it after taking a short pass from Nathan Sandin.
In the second half, the Novans came back strong and tied the game on a goal by Matthew Menorath in the 58th minute.
The teams eventually went to overtime, where the Titans finally got themselves back on track. Two minutes into the first overtime period, Moreno-Garcia barreled through the box with a defender on his hip and muscled a shot into the net.
“This is a game that really screams for what [Moreno-Garcia] does,” Hayes said Thursday. “He’s a strong kid. It’s really tough to move him off the ball. Against a team like that, that’s really strong and so good at tackles, he’s a kid who can shrug off a defender and get one.”
Armed with the overtime lead, Toll Gate then held on for the 2-1 win, its first since a 2002 quarterfinal victory over Barrington.
Though the run ended in disappointing fashion two days later, the Titans still made some serious headway. When seniors like Sandin and John Crowley were freshmen, the Titans were still floundering in Division I.
This season offered a sign that the program is back.
“It’s important to see where we started, not just this year but five years ago,” Hayes said. “There was a time when we weren’t sure we would have enough players for a team. But we always managed. We moved down to D-II and we just missed out on the playoffs last year. Making it this year was great, so when you look at it that way, it’s not so bad.”