Sports editor emeritus
CENTRAL FALLS – The Tolman-Central Falls playoff game appeared headed to a shootout for the longest time on Tuesday night. The favored Warriors were having a hard time scoring against Tolman keeper Adam Ghazal, arguably the best goalie in the state.
The game remained scoreless well into the second half before C.F.’s Jean Urquiza was awarded a free kick with 15 minutes left in regulation time. Urquiza hooked his shot around a wall of defenders. Just as Ghazal prepared to stop the shot at the left side of his net, a Tolman defender dove and accidentally deflected the ball into the goal.
The “own” goal stood up as Central Falls survived a furious Tolman push during the final minutes for a 1-0 victory in this Division I preliminary round contest. The Warriors will visit South Kingstown at 6 p.m. on Saturday night in a quarterfinal contest.
“That might have been the only way we were going to score,” C.F. coach Carl Africo said with a shake of his head after Tuesday’s game ended. “Their goalie (Ghazal), who I think is the best in the state, made five or six great saves tonight.”
If the game had gone to overtime and then a shootout, Tolman would have had an advantage over C.F. The Tigers seemed to be playing with that idea in mind as they packed in their defense and thwarted the talented Warrior playmakers.
Central Falls held a 7-1 advantage in shots during the first half. The Warriors then came out shooting to start the second half, foregoing the extra pass to make Ghazal work. But the Tigers’ keeper, who made 157 saves in the regular season while allowing just 20 goals (easily the best save percentage in the state), just kept on denying the Warriors, diving for some hard shots and punching others away with his fist.
Ghazal made a diving save off a shot by high-scoring Alexi Flores midway through the second half. The Warriors kept the pressure on and were awarded with several free or indirect kick opportunities. Tolman had one good shot in the first 25 minutes of the second half. But after Urguiza’s shot went into the Tolman goal, the Tigers changed their strategy, bringing their own back-line players to midfield and pushing hard for a game-tying goal.
Central Falls goalie Jon Ortiz twice bobbled shots, one a high shot lofted 10 yards in the air that came down in front of the net. The ball dropped out of Ortiz’s hands as the fans gasped but the Tigers could not get a foot on it before the Warriors cleared it to midfield.
Ghazal came out of his own net with three minutes left and joined the action at midfield, adding to the frenzy as the clock wound down. Tolman got a corner kick opportunity with two minutes left and ended up heading a shot just wide right of the net. Ortiz cleared the ball out. The Tigers kept pushing, to no avail, before the final whistle sounded, ending the match.
South Kingstown finished fourth in Division I with a 10-2-2 record. Central Falls went 8-5-1 in the regular season. Tolman, 4-10-0, gave the Warriors all they could handle for 40 minutes on Tuesday night at dusty Macomber Stadium.