Nobody celebrated like it was a landmark moment, but that’s what the Warwick Vets boys’ soccer team’s 6-3 win over Rogers on Tuesday amounted to once the final whistle blew.
The ’Canes led by a goal at the half, but seized control for good with four second-half goals. The result was the program’s first league win since the 2009 season. Vets had a non-league win against Pilgrim earlier in the season, but a loss and a tie in its first two league matches had still kept the team winless in matches that count.
The last two seasons in Division II, Vets had gone 0-30-2. Three matches into 2012, after a move to Division III, that streak is a thing of the past.
The ’Canes are back in the win column.
“We didn’t dwell on it,” Vets head coach Mike Kenney said of the losing streak. “I don’t have to tell them something they already know. The three captains, the three seniors are the only ones who’ve been around for all of it. It’s nice. It’ll settle in. They earned it. They’re in the right division now.”
Vets is now 1-1-1 and sits right in the middle of the divisional standings. Rogers fell to 0-4.
Junior Justin Batista broke out with his best match as a varsity contributor, as he scored the ’Canes’ first three goals en route to a four-goal day, pacing the offense.
Cody Sullivan and Nikone Soupharath also added goals, but it was Batista’s performance that put Vets over the top for the first time in a long time.
“Justin Batista had a hell of a day,” Kenney said. “Four goals – he had a career day. Well done by him.”
The ’Canes, playing against a strong wind in the first half, still dominated play, but actually fell behind 1-0 when Rogers’ Alec Humphrey knocked home a loose ball in front of the Vets’ net in the 10th minute.
Undeterred, though, Vets answered back immediately. Less than a minute after Humphrey’s goal, Batista got loose on the left side, beat a defender with a nifty move toward the middle and then slid a shot past goalie O’Hagan Willocks to tie the score.
“I’ve been just working hard all summer for this season,” Batista said. “I’ve been lifting weights, doing speed training. I’ve just been getting ready for the season, and I feel better than I ever have.”
The ’Canes kept coming, as they continually pressed the Rogers goal. But shots sailed wide or high, leaving the game knotted at one. On the other side, Rogers pressured a few times, but Vets keeper Mike Riccitelli was always there to make the play.
“Wind played a huge part,” Kenney said. “We were very lucky in the first half where it could have gone either way. Michael Riccitelli, especially in the first half, played his line very well.”
With time winding down in the half, Vets jumped out in front. Soupharath took a free kick from just over half on the left, and lofted a perfect pass to a streaking Batista, who controlled the ball behind the defense. After one touch, he pushed a soft shot past the keeper just inside the near post, giving the ’Canes a 2-1 lead.
Just 40 minutes from its first league win in three years, and playing with the wind, Vets took a step back at the start of the second when Aidan Carey split two defenders and blistered a shot past Riccitelli in the 42nd minute, tying the score at two.
But Batista was there to get the team back on track.
Two minutes later, Vets pushed hard towards the Rogers net, but the ball was deflected and bounced around. Somehow it ended up at the feet of Batista in the left side of the box, and he gladly took the shot and deposited it in the net again, putting Vets back in front 3-2.
“He’s got a great eye for the goal, and he can score, obviously,” Kenney said. “He’s got a nice temper in front of the net. He stays calm, he looks for his spot and he’s got a knack for it. He’s a goal scorer.”
In the 52nd minute, Sullivan got into the action for Vets, taking a crossing pass from Tyler Oliveira on the left side and beating Willocks for a 4-2 lead.
And then, just two minutes after that, Batista scored his fourth goal of the day on a cross from Sullivan for a the ’Canes’ third goal in the last 10 minutes and a nearly insurmountable three-goal lead.
“It was a good win,” Kenney said. “Rogers is a good team. If we put things together, we can score. Today, we scored.”
Padraig Walsh did score a few minutes later to get Rogers back within two, but the Vikings never seriously threatened from there. Vets continued to keep the pressure on, scoring its sixth goal in the 72nd minute when Soupharath kicked one from just across midfield at the goal. The ball rode the wind, and landed perfectly in the back of the goal.
Kenney emptied the bench after that, and the ’Canes cruised to a much-needed win for the program.
“It feels good to have a team that is playing good,” Batista said. “The last few years we haven’t been playing that good. This year I think we have a good chance to do some good stuff, maybe make the playoffs.”
With an actual victory out of the way, the ’Canes will now to try to make some noise in their division. They haven’t won more than one game since 2008.
Their next game is on Friday at 3-0 Prout at 3:30 p.m. That should be a good litmus test to see how far the team has come.
“We’ve got a big, big, big test against Prout on Friday,” Kenney said. “We’ve got to come back from this, shake off the ha-ha’s and get after it now.”