PROVIDENCE – Shea High head coach Pierre Ridore admitted afterward he was just glad to escape the Hope High pitch with a triumph.
For most of the final stanza, his Raiders guarded a 1-0 cushion with aplomb, but it seemed it all would go for naught after officials whistled a Shea defender for a foul against senior Brayan Sucuqui in his own penalty box with only five minutes to play in regulation.
For that infraction, they awarded Sucuqui a penalty kick.
The stellar midfielder seemed poised to knot the contest at 1-1, but he ripped the shot off the left post, and the ball caromed harmlessly away as those Blue Wave coaches and players on the sideline grimaced.
The Raiders tacked on an insurance tally in the 37th minute and somehow pulled out a 2-0 Division II victory over a more-than-gritty Hope squad.
“Hope worked hard, and they never gave up,” Ridore sighed after the nailbiter, one that lifted his Raiders to 6-3-3 overall and 6-2-3 in league action. “We had controlled most of the first half, and we played rather well, but they came out more determined in the second half and took away what we do best – move the ball with the one-touch (passes).
“I do feel lucky to leave with a win,” he added. “Hope's a good team, and (it) always plays us tough.”
If anybody is responsible for Shea's win, stated Ridore, it's his defense – namely junior sweeper William Baah, senior Richmond Baffour and junior Edson Ferrer. Throughout the final stanza, the Blue Wave harassed the midfield and defense with pressure, but that group dialed it up a notch and booted would-be attempts at net away from senior keeper Sebastian DeFaria.
“As far as I'm concerned, William Baah is the best defender in the state,” Ridore noted later. “He's so talented with the ball. With his speed, he can get from side to side and mark a forward or midfielder, and get the ball out of danger. He takes total charge of the defense, and he's so tough mentally. He doesn't want the ball to get past him.
“I don't think there's anyone tougher mentally in the state than he is,” he added. “He's only a junior, so the best is yet to come.”
Stated veteran mentor Al DiGregorio, whose mentored his troops for over three decades: “We just weren't luck, I guess. I thought we had tied it up with that penalty kick. (Sucuqui) had the goalie totally faked out with the shot and it his the post.
“I guess it just wasn't meant to be,” he continued. “We played very well, but Shea's a great team. It was a good, clean, aggressive game, but it wasn't in the cards. Hopefully, we can still make the playoffs.”
The Blue Wave fell to 4-8-1 overall and 3-7-1 in D-II, though the top 12 contingents (in the 15-team league) earned a post-season berth. DiGregorio believes a few more wins or stalemates can cement that qualification.
It looked as if the Raiders would score just eight minutes into the opening session, but Ferrer fired a 30-yard shot from the right side off the crossbar. After that, Shea pretty much dominated, but had little to show for it but three shots on senior goalie Airton Alfama.
The fourth, however, was a different story. In the 34th minute, Baffour lined up to take an approximate 37-yard shot from just inside the right sideline and drilled it, stunningly, just inside the left post. When it crossed the goal line, it was less than six feet high, though Shea had struck first.
“I've been coaching here for 30 years, and I've never seen a shot quite like that,” DiGregorio said at intermission. “It was incredible! It was one of the best bullets I've ever seen a high school kid have.”
Stated Ridore: “That was a beautiful goal. We work on that kind of shot in practice all the time, and the reason is we want our defenders to become more involved in our offense. Defense is what usually keeps us in games. We lost our main goal scorers to graduation and other things over the past couple of years, so that was great to see.”
Shea had outshot Hope, 5-1, over the initial 40 minutes, and it didn't change much in the last half, as the Raiders finished with 13 on goal, the hosts only three. The Blue Wave, however, came out with more energy after the break, and it started when the officials called senior midfielder William Neves for an infraction. One immediately issued him a yellow card, leaving the Raiders to play a man down for five minutes.
On Sucuqui's direct kick, though, Shea defended it well. It didn't, though, when Sucuqui ripped a liner toward the net, and freshman linemate Jendrick Estrada headed it. The delivery sailed just over the crossbar.
At about the 62nd minute, junior midfielder Akiel Legall was whistled for an infraction, and that left Shea with a five-minute “man-up.” Immediately, senior Adilson DaRosa dribbled down the left side and unleashed a 20-yarder at Alfama, who made the diving save.
Six minutes later, junior striker Komla Dogbey fired a 30-yard direct kick at DeFaria, but he scooped up the liner on one bounce.
In the 33rd minute, Shea senior Ienik Spencer rifled a 24-yarder toward Alfama, but he again stopped it to keep it a one-tally tilt.
Then came the penalty kick off the left post, and – at the 36:23 mark – Spencer made good on his final try, knocking home junior Kevin Andrade's pass, one just out of Alfama's grasp.
Actually, it clipped his fingers.
Still, like Ridore, DiGregorio praised the stellar work of a quartet of defenders, including seniors Matthew Adeyemi and Dinildo Spencer, as well as Estrada and Justin Sanchez.
“The kids fought hard, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” DiGregorio stated. “Like I said, it just wasn't meant to be.”