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WOONSOCKET â€” Mount St. Charles brought out its best soccer on Thursday afternoon, and in the process, delivered its first playoff victory in six years.
Senior striker Tim Stein scored a pair of goals and the Mountiesâ€™ defense turned in one of its finest performances of the season to help pave the way for a 4-0 victory over Coventry in their Division II preliminary-round matchup on the Mountiesâ€™ pitch.
The victory was the fourth in the last five matches for the Mounties, who improved to 10-6-1 and will visit Division II-South champion East Greenwich (12-4) tomorrow in a 1 p.m. quarterfinal-round game.
But before the Mounties could set their sights on the Avengers, they had to tangle with a formidable foe in the Knotty Oakers and a team that handed East Greenwich two of their regular-season losses.
â€śThis is the best game that Iâ€™ve seen us play,â€ť offered MSC coach Miles Henderson. â€śWe really sort of got up for this game. We came down to Division II [last season] with Coach Rich [Frigon] and Coventry, so I knew they were going to be tough. Heâ€™s a very talented coach and I have a lot of respect for him and his program.â€ť
The Mounties had dropped their last four playoff appearances and hadnâ€™t won one since their 5-1 win over Cranston West in the 2005 Division II championship game that gave them back-to-back titles, but they ended that drought with a strong all-around showing.
They took a 2-0 lead at intermission thanks to goals by Stein and Paolo Roche that were scored a minute apart from each other midway through the first half, and they netted their other two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
And while the Mounties delivered offensively, they made their mark defensively behind the play of goalie Geoff Cicatiello and the back four of Connor McCarthy, Chris Brown, Matt LaButti, and Ryan Diogo.
Not only did that group help shut down the Oakersâ€™ top scorer, Joe Corcelli (10 goals, six assists), but they also limited Coventry to just four shots on net.
â€śOne of our strengths is our defense,â€ť added Henderson. â€śWeâ€™ve been working a lot with our defensive principles, and it starts with the fundamentals and goes all the way through teamwork play, and thatâ€™s what they showed today. They really came together and jelled. A lot of communication â€“ it was a lot of fun to watch.â€ť
Stein netted the only goal the Mounties needed at the 23rd minute with a 20-yard rocket in the middle of the field that zipped to the left of a dive by Oakers keeper Robert Gallucci.
Rocheâ€™s goal came off a well-placed corner kick by Matthew Gilson, who booted the ball near the mouth of the net and saw Roche race to the ball in traffic and get off a nice shot past Gallucci.
Daniel Kohutanycz made it a 3-0 contest five minutes into the second half by reeling in a long pass from Gilson and blasting a shot into the top right corner of the net that Gallucci had no chance at stopping.
And Stein capped the scoring at the 50th minute by taking a pass from Roche near the side of the net and one-timing it into the back of the goal.
The Oakers, who fell to 8-8-2 and entered the contest with a 5-2-1 mark in their last eight contests, were less than 24 hours removed from a 2-0 triumph over Westerly in a play-in game, and fatigue may have played a part in them suffering their most lopsided defeat of the season.
â€śThatâ€™s a tough situation,â€ť said Henderson. â€śComing off back-to-back games, especially when thereâ€™s a week break in between the semifinals and the finals, a concession maybe should have been made. Itâ€™s very difficult and itâ€™s not really fair, but their kids still came down here and they played hard.â€ť
The Mounties will certainly have to play hard tomorrowâ€™s showdown with the Avengers, who ended their season with one-goal defeats to Middletown and Coventry, but certainly promise to be a threat that could go deep in the tournament.
â€śThey're the No. 1 team in the South and theyâ€™re going to be a tough battle for us,â€ť admitted Henderson, â€śbut weâ€™ll be ready to play them.â€ť