With roughly half the season complete, the Division III boys’ soccer race is shaping up as a very competitive one. Warwick Vets is slowly but surely putting itself firmly in the mix.
After a 2-2-1 start, the Hurricanes won two straight last week, beating St. Raphael and Scituate by 2-0 scores, to move into fifth-place in the jam-packed D-III standings. Vets’ only losses were by a single goal to the first-place and third-place teams, and now the victories are starting to add up, too.
“I’d like a few more points but we’re playing about where I thought we would be,” head coach Mike Kenney said after Thursday’s win over Scituate. “They’re starting to get it and I think they’re comfortable in their roles. We’ve just got to keep going.”
The ’Canes opened the season with a tie, a win and a loss, but they’ve been trending up since then. They’re 3-1 in their last four, with a 1-0 loss to third-place Prout the only blemish. The earlier loss came by a 3-2 score against first-place West Warwick.
“Prout I thought was our best game,” Kenney said. “They got one with six minutes left and that was it. It was unfortunate but Prout’s a good team.”
The close games against top teams were a reason for optimism, but the ’Canes needed some victories too, and last week did the trick. Justin Batista scored two goals in a 2-0 victory over St. Raphael on Tuesday. On Thursday, Batista had a goal and an assist and Nikone Soupharath scored as Vets topped Scituate 2-0. Goalie Mike Riccitelli made 14 total saves in the two shutouts.
“We beat teams that are lower in the division, but these are the games you’ve got to get,” Kenney said. “You’ve got to steal a win when you can if we’re going to be where we want to be at the end.”
Kenney thought the ’Canes lacked energy against St. Raphael, and he thought it was happening again on Thursday. Neither team controlled possession or generated many chances in the early going.
But in the 14th minute, Vets broke the ice. Batista won a ball 15 yards from the box, and carried it in on the left side. With defenders converging, Batista maintained possession and ripped a shot into the opposite corner of the net.
“I feel like our whole team is just working together,” Batista said. “From the defense to the midfield to the forwards, we’re all just playing as a unit now.”
The goal gave the ’Canes control and they never lost it. Scituate had few looks in the rest of the first half, and Riccitelli made a diving save on the best of the chances.
“We played real flat against St. Ray’s,” Kenney said. “I was a little nervous going into this one. We started a little flat against these guys too. Scituate is ahead of us in the division and I told the guys it was going to be a different intensity. Scituate came out real strong, but we settled down. We got that first one and I think we calmed down.”
Early in the second half, Vets could relax a little more. In the 50th minute, Batista slipped a through ball to Soupharath near the middle of the field. Soupharath took the ball toward the left, skirted past a defender and hit a perfect shot into the right corner of the net.
It was the sixth goal of the season for Soupharath. Batista also has six goals.
For the rest of Thursday’s game, Vets didn’t need any more offense. The defense headed by Brad Robert, Brandon Gemmell, Tyler Kurtz and Jon Hunt limited chances, and Riccitelli finished with six saves. The biggest save came with eight minutes left, when Riccitelli jumped and stretched backward to tip a shot away.
“There’s a lot of experience back there,” Kenney said. “They’re playing well. They communicate well, and Mike’s playing fantastic. He played really well today, and we need him to.”
The ’Canes will try to keep their winning streak alive when they visit North Providence tonight at 7 p.m. The Cougars are 0-4-1.
“It was a good effort today,” Kenney said. “It’s a work in progress. I don’t think we’ve topped out yet.”