SMITHFIELD --- The rematch was just as competitive as their first meeting, but the end result wasn’t the one that Tolman had hoped for in its Division II-North regular-season finale and battle of unbeatens with Smithfield.
Joe Pate’s goal off a rebound 1:48 into the second half allowed the Sentinels to eke out a 1-0 triumph over the Tigers and repeat as II-North champions on Wednesday night before a packed house on Smithfield’s ‘Senior Night’ at the Boyle Athletic Complex.
The win also sewed up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Division II playoffs for the defending state champion Sentinels, who venture into the postseason with a 14-0-2 mark and another tough battle with the Tigers under their belts.
“We got exactly what we expected,” noted Smithfield coach Steve Votolato, who honored 13 seniors during a pre-game ceremony. “Tolman’s a very good team and they didn’t go 13-1-2 by being slouches, so we knew this was going to be a tough game going in.”
While the loss spoiled the Tigers’ bid at claiming their first undefeated regular season since 1994, it was quickly put in their rearview mirror once the team boarded its bus and headed back home to Pawtucket.
“It would have been nice to win this game, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Tolman coach Jack Couto, whose crew battled the Sentinels to a 2-2 tie in their initial Sept. 29 meeting at the McKinnon-Alves Complex. “We have the playoffs next week. Nobody got hurt, and nobody got a red card, so we’ll move forward and get ready for the playoffs.”
Wednesday’s game was a defensive duel that didn’t feature many shots on net (10 total, six by Smithfield), but offered some physical play by both sides that surprisingly only saw one Sentinel player get a yellow card early in the match.
Pate’s goal, his 10th of the season, came on the rebound of a up-close shot by Alex Bedrosian that Tolman goalie Adam Ghazal bent down to scoop up, but lost control of the ball when he bumped into another player.
The ball squirted back out in front of the net, where Pate one-timed a 10-foot shoot that Ghazal had no chance at stopping.
“That’s what soccer’s all about,” said Votolato. “In a game like this, you only get a few opportunities, and when you get them, you have to put them away, and Joe did, so we got lucky today. The soccer gods smiled on us.”
Of the Tigers’ season-low four shots, none of them were deemed threatening to Smithfield keeper Chase Richard, who along with talented sweeper Cory Speroni and the rest of the defense, recorded their fifth straight shutout and 10th of the season.
If the Tigers and the Sentinels were to meet again in the postseason, the only way that would happen is if they both reached the championship game. And both coaches agreed that if that happens, it would make for another excellent showdown.
“I’d love to see them again,” said Votolato. “No. 1, I’d love to see the North have two teams in the finals. That would be great, but I’d have no problems playing them again. It would be a great game.”
“I just told my players, ‘We’ll hopefully see them again in the finals,’ ” noted Couto. “That’s a great program, so to lose 1-0 on their Senior Night, there’s nothing to complain about. It was a great game, but tomorrow starts a new season, and we’ll start getting ready for the playoffs.”
Tolman 0 - 0 -- 0
Smithfield 0 - 1 -- 1
First half: No scoring.
Second half: S -- Joe Pate (unassisted), 1:48.
Shots on goal: Tolman 4, Smithfield 6. Goalie saves: T -- Adam Ghazal (5 saves); S -- Chase Richard (4 saves).