PAWTUCKET — Longtime Tolman High head coach Bel Pereira didn't discover until he arrived at the McKinnon-Alves Complex on Tuesday afternoon that one of his best forwards, sophomore Suzette Hernandez, wouldn't be able to play because of a stomach virus.
In fact, her mom already had picked her up to transport her to the doctor's office.
“She's one of my top players, so I didn't know what to do,” Pereira said. “I decided to move Nicole Bedoya from defense to Suzette's position, but I also worried about holes in my defense.”
As it turned out, there was no need for concern. Bedoya, a senior midfielder most of the time, finished with two goals and his back line of defense mustered a stellar outing as the Tigers rolled to a 3-1 Division III-A victory over rival St. Raphael Academy.
With the verdict, Tolman raised its record to 1-2 overall, while the Saints fell to 0-2.
“It was very physical, and that didn't surprise me,” Pereira offered later. “I like my team to play fair and aggressive; at least that's the way I like to phrase it. That's been my philosophy for my entire career. I thought (seniors) Michaela Sinotte (and) Amber Duhamel, and (sophomore) McKenzie Hofknecht were very good (Tuesday).
“Actually, our entire defense played well,” he added. “You've got to remember that this is a fairly new team, in terms of youth, and a lot of the girls are still learning. I have some very skilled players, like Ashley Clark, Jazmine Almeida and Nicole, but my whole problem with this team is they're still trying to work out the kinks positionally, but they already should've done that.
“Still, this is a very satisfying victory; it's our first win in the year in III-A, and it's a confidence-builder. I thought we played well against Chariho, which we lost 3-0, but these kids are improving every game. We still have a lot of things we need to work on, but it's starting to come together.”
The contest nevertheless didn't begin the way Pereira had hoped, as SRA junior forward Kyanna Ivey-Jones ripped an approximate 12-yard shot inside the left post just two minutes into the initial half.
Three minutes later, after a Saint ran over Tolman senior keeper Shelby Hofknecht trying to run down a loose ball, referees awarded the Tigers a direct kick from just outside the penalty box.
Ashley Clark, a senior, took that shot, but it whistled just past the left post.
Not long after, senior defender Jocelyn Vidal centered a pass to Clark, stationed just feet in front of the net, but her header drifted wide of the left post.
Tolman wasn't denied on its next opportunity. After a ball caromed off a Saints' defender, Bedoya dribbled once and chipped a blooper over the head of senior goalie Quinci Eacueo to knot the score at 1-1 at the 12th minute.
The Tigers had two chances to take the lead over the next nine minutes, but Eacueo made sprawling saves on both.
In the third minute of the final stanza, Ivey-Jones dribbled from midfield down the right sideline and whacked a 20-yard liner at Shelby Hofknecht, though the latter made a leaping save. Exactly five minutes after, Ashley Clark delivered a superb feed to freshman sister Morgan Clark, who was standing at point-blank range, but the youngster's boot hit the left post.
The Tigers, however, took advantage of their next shot, as McKenzie Hofknecht lofted a corner kick toward the middle of the box. Almeida leaped and headed home the shot in the ninth minute, good for the 2-1 cushion.
Perhaps two minutes later, sophomore midfielder Haley Dunne hustled down the right sideline and past a defender, then drilled a shot at Shelby Hofknecht, who came out of the net to cut down the angle. She actually deflected the attempt into Dunne's face, and she fell to the turf immediately.
Dunne eventually got up and ran off the field – with a bloody lip, no less – but did return to the game, and played solidly.
The Saints mustered a few opportunities to tie it over the next several minutes, but the Tigers' trio of Sinotte, Duhamel and the younger Hofknecht booted such attempts away. McKenzie's older sis, Shelby, closed with seven saves.
Tolman added an insurance tally with only 10 minutes left in the match; that's when Ashley Clark sent a centering pass to a streaking Bedoya, and she rifled a grounder past Eacueo (eight saves) and inside the left post.
“Ivey-Jones played a very good game; any time she receives the ball, she's a threat,” noted SRA mentor Michael Ross Drake. “The girl does it all. She's a tough, tough player, and once my other girls start to play off her, she'll give up the ball, and that will open it up for the others.
“My No. 10 (Haley Mitsmenn) is a freshman and Coral Santos is a junior, and I thought they did a nice job defensively,” he added. “(Tolman) came at us with a three-man line, and I wanted to keep my sweeper – (junior) Trina Lomba – free so she could read the defense, then step in and make plays.
“I thought we did a good job of that in the first half, but not so much in the second. I feel Tolman's athleticism was the key. They were tougher and quicker, and they marked up Kyanna much better. One of our weaknesses is completing passes, and we just didn't get the ball to teammates or to open space.”
Drake promised his squad would work on that in practice before hosting West Warwick in another D-III-A clash at McKinnon-Alves Complex at 5 p.m., Friday.