PAWTUCKET — If Thursday’s Division II-North showdown between unbeaten Tolman and once-tied Smithfield is any indication, the postseason playoffs are going to be fun to watch.
Defending D-II champion Smithfield dominated the first half of this matchup with Tolman, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Mark Marino and Tim Cabral. The Sentinels’ defense held the high-powered Tigers’ offense to one shot in the first half.
The second half provided a total turnaround. Tolman dominated play, drilling six shots at Smithfield goalie Chase Richard, and turning two of them into goals that stalemated this contest at 2-2.
“We played with a lot of energy in the first half,” Smithfield coach Steve Votolato suggested after the game ended. “Tolman seemed to have all the energy in the second half. Why? Well, these are just kids. It’s hard to figure them out sometimes. And Tolman is a very good team.”
Tolman began breaking through Smithfield’s defense early in the second half, making some passes that connected inside the scoring zone, and forcing the Sentinels back on their heels.
While high-scoring Tolman forward Manny Wongen dealt with two and three defenders whenever the ball came his way, playmaking midfielder Anderson Monteiro began to press the attack, creating opportunities that got just a little bit better each time Tolman penetrated Smithfield’s defense.
Tolman’s first goal developed in the 14th minute of the second half when midfielder Sebastian Estrada delivered a pass to forward Preston Kamara 30 yards from the goal. Kamara centered a pass to Monteiro, who drilled a crisp shot past Richard to make it a 2-1 game and further energize the Tigers, who seemed empowered by this first goal.
Tolman kept the pressure on while Smithfield fell back on defense, seeking constantly to clear a long pass back to midfield where several talented midfielders and forwards posed a threat to the back side of Tolman’s defense.
Tolman defenseman Ruben Cano saved a certain Smithfield goal in the 65th minute, blocking a shot off a corner kick while stationed at left post of the goal.
Wongen broke free for the only time all game in the 70th minute, going in on a breakaway that ended with a collision between the speedy forward and the Smithfield goalie. No foul was called on the play, probably a good decision under the circumstances.
At the 73-minute mark, Tolman midfielder Ahmad El-asmar, who had the wind knocked out of him earlier in the contest, launched a strong kick from 20 yards out that beat Richard and tied the game.
“Ahmad is a freshman and that is his first goal of the season,” Tolman coach Jack Couto said. “He made a great shot.”
Smithfield responded four minutes later when striker Tim Cabral spun around in traffic five yards in front of Tolman’s goal and slammed a hard kick off the crossbar. Six inches lower and Smithfield goes home with the victory.
Wongen got tripped with 20 seconds left in the game, giving Tolman a free kick from the left side of the field. That boot forced Richard to make his final save of the game.
“Smithfield had a man covering Manny (Wongen) all game with the sweeper coming in to help out,” Couto said. “They completely took us out of our game in the first half. Our kids got a little down when Smithfield scored the first goal. And then when they scored again right before the half, we had to pump our players up at halftime.”
Couto’s players responded in the second half, proving they can compete with a Smithfield program that beat East Greenwich 3-2 in last year’s D-II championship final. East Greenwich had won the state title in 2009.
“If we can play with Smithfield, that would be great because their program is very strong,” Couto said. “There are several other good teams in our division this year … East Greenwich, Prout, Moses Brown and Mount St. Charles. East Greenwich only has one loss this season. They’re in the other side of the division and we don’t see them much.”
Tolman, 9-0-0 this season, will visit Moses Brown (4-3-0) next Tuesday. The second half of the league schedule is well under way.
In a case of smart scheduling by the Interscholastic League, Tolman will visit Smithfield (6-0-2) in the regular season finale on Oct. 26.