PAWTUCKET --- When Portsmouth High took a 1-0 lead just 54 seconds into Wednesday afternoon’s Division I quarterfinal-round contest with Shea High and held it into the final moments of the first half, the Raiders and their fans were quietly fearing the worst.
That’s because in last year’s Division II quarterfinals, the Raiders suffered a stunning 2-1 loss to Lincoln High that saw the Lions draw first blood, and despite being dominated for most of the game, escape Pawtucket with the upset victory.
But sophomore striker Emerson Barros came to the rescue. Not only did he knot the score in the last minute of the half, but he also completed a natural hat trick by scoring twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half to help the Raiders cop a 4-1 win at the McKinnon-Alves Complex.
The Raiders, who are the second seed in the nine-team tournament, upped their record to 13-1-5 and will play in Monday night’s semifinals at Cranston Stadium. They will play in the 8 p.m. nightcap of a Division I twinbill against the survivor of the quarterfinal-round game between third-seeded Bishop Hendricken and sixth-seeded North Kingstown.
“We’re on to the next challenge,” noted Shea coach Pierre Ridore, whose crew beat both the Hawks and Skippers by 2-1 scores earlier in the year. “We played both teams before. We know what they have and they know what we have, so we’ll see what happens.”
The semifinal-round game will also be the Raiders’ first on a FieldTurf surface this year, but Ridore promised that his team will be ready for any challenges that await them.
“(The FieldTurf) is going to be something new for our guys,” he added, “but we’ll work hard, and hopefully, the balls will bounce our way.”
The ball certainly didn’t bounce the Raiders’ way in the opening minute of play when the Patriots scored off a long throw-in by co-captain Tyler Oliveira.
Oliveira’s throw went toward the mouth of the Raiders’ goal and into a scrum of players, and when Shea keeper Julio Garcia was unable to get his hands on the loose ball, David Gleeson was able to get his head on it and tap it into the back of the net.
While the Raiders were obviously stunned by the quick goal, Ridore admitted that he had a flashback of last year’s upset loss to the Lions.
“That’s the first thing that came to mind,” Ridore added with a smile. “I’m like, ‘Oh boy. Now we have to work from behind, and if we don’t equal this by the time the first half is over, I’m sure some of the kids who were here last year are going to start thinking (the Lincoln game) all over again. Then we’re going to try to do too much and it’s going to be harder to come back.”
If that goal wasn’t enough to put a lump in the Raiders’ throats, then the Patriots’ strong bid for a second goal midway through the half certainly did.
Gleeson tried to double the Patriots’ lead with a long free kick, but his shot went over the reach of Garcia and clanged off the corner of the crossbar. The rebound then went right to Adam Overcash near the side of the goal. He caught Garcia away from the middle of the goal and had a wide-open shot in front of him, but slid his shot just wide of the goal.
“I thought that was going to go in,” admitted Ridore. “I don’t know how that kid missed it. He had a wide open net, and when I saw the play happening, I was already thinking in my head, ‘OK, we’re down 2-0. We have to find a way to come back.’ But luckily for us, the ball didn’t go in.”
Just a few minutes later, the Raiders nearly knotted the game on a shot from the corner by Gerson Gomes that soared over the leap of Portsmouth keeper Ryan Wordell, but also got a good piece of the crossbar.
But with a minute to go before the half, Barros netted the equalizer and gave the Raiders a burst of momentum. He took a nice go-ahead pass from Sebastian Estriplet, and after seeing Wordell race out of the net to challenge him, Barros slipped a low shot past him.
“That was huge,” added Ridore. “(Portsmouth) was excited about their goal, and for us to go down 1-0 early like that, it was critical for us to tie the game (before the second half), so luckily, we were able to get one in before the (first) half was over.”
Barros netted the go-ahead score two minutes into the second half on a partial breakaway that was set up nicely by Ienik Spencer. Barros took his pass, wheeled in from of the right of the net, and tapped a low shot to the left of Wordell that he had no chance at stopping.
“I told the kids at halftime, ‘Let’s keep the momentum going,’ ” said Ridore. “Hopefully (Portsmouth) is still thinking about our last goal, so let’s try to get another one.’ I know my team was feeling good about themselves, so I knew if we got another one, we’d be in good shape.”
Thirteen minutes later, Barros completed his hat trick off another assist by Spencer. This time he scored from the left of the net by taking a shot from a difficult angle that slipped past Wordell, hit off the right post, and settled into the back of the goal.
The three goals give Barros 23 on the season. As a freshman last year, he tallied 32 in the Division II ranks.
“He’s our goal scorer,” said Ridore. “That’s his job on the team. We put the ball through and just let him do his thing.”
The Raiders, who ended up outshooting the Patriots by a 17-4 count, got their final score with 13 seconds left in the game on a goal by Estriplet that was set up by Joao Cardoso.