WOONSOCKET â€” Head coach Andrew Rao couldnâ€™t and wouldnâ€™t argue the point that his Woonsocket High club, as depleted as it was, exhibited rather solid play in a 2-0 loss to South Kingstown at Barry Field on Wednesday afternoon.
After all, he had to face his Division I opener without the services of junior sweeper Nathan Sengsavang, who received what Rao deemed an unwarranted red card in a recent non-league game against Mount St. Charles, and also senior captain and forward Tyler Pacheco, who suffered a knee injury just two minutes into this affair.
The good news on this hot and humid day: Senior goalkeeper Piotr Linek, in only his second season, finished with 15 saves, at least a third of them in spectacular fashion, while juniors Mouhamadou Dia and Nathan Cartier, not to mention sophomore Assan Touray, played outstanding defense in front of him.
On the down side, because of the injuries/suspensions, the Villa Novans could muster few offensive opportunities against a Rebelsâ€™ team that exhibited better passing and conditioning, as well as controlling the midfield.
â€śThis was good for us,â€ť Rao stated after Woonsocket fell to 0-3 overall, 0-1 in league action. â€śWe werenâ€™t at full strength, but I thought we played pretty well. This is kind of a moral victory for us, because South Kingstown always seems to be near the top (of the D-I standings).
â€śWe knew we were going to have to play more of a defensive game, considering the losses of Pacheco and Sengsavang,â€ť he added. â€śI thought Piotr played great in goal. He made some phenomenal saves.â€ť
South Kingstown didnâ€™t need long to snatch a 1-0 advantage. Senior midfielder Joe Toomey accepted a pass from junior Michael Gross and ripped a liner past Linek and inside the right post just 13:55 into the initial session.
After that, the visitors found it difficult to penetrate the netting again. Approximately 12 minutes after the tally, senior co-captain Matt Roberts scorched a 25-yard direct kick at Linek, who promptly deflected the try away. About six minutes later, junior Jacob Colon juked a defender, spun and fired a hard line drive at Linek, who snared the attempt.
Not even a minute after, Toomey rolled from left to right around the penalty box, dribbled past two defenders and whacked an try at the tall, lanky Woonsocket goalie, but it hit the crossbar. It just happened to be the third time head coach Scott Rollinsâ€™ crew had clanged one off the post and/or crossbar.
Rao mentioned he felt fortunate his squad trailed only 1-0 at the break.
The Novans produced one of their finer chances perhaps a minute into the final session. Senior co-captain and forward Kyle Alexander booted a 35-yard direct kick at the right post, but sophomore midfielder PaOusman Jobe just missed planting the header. It wouldâ€™ve knotted the score at 1-1.
Approximately two minutes after that stellar opportunity, Toomey was at it again; he raced past a pair of defenders and unleashed a hard grounder at Linek, but he fell to his knees and stopped it. At the nine-minute mark of the second session, SK tri-captain Steve Pepe hustled in toward the goal and launched a low shot at Linek, but he responded with a diving save.
It looked as if the Rebels would snag a 2-0 cushion with about 14 minutes remaining in regulation when Pepe received a breakaway pass from beyond the midfield stripe. The only one in his path was Linek, but he came out of the net and booted the ball from harmâ€™s way.
South Kingstown (3-0 overall, 2-0 league) eventually sealed the win at the 69:30 mark, when â€“ after junior Ryan Foley created a turnover deep in Woonsocket territory â€“ Pepe drilled a try inside the right post.
With about four minutes left before the final whistle, officials awarded Roberts a penalty kick after a foul inside the box, but his liner traveled well over the crossbar.
In the end, the Novansâ€™ Amaya crushed a 35-yarder at senior tri-captain and keeper Nathaniel Eastman, but he flew out of the goal and stopped the shot. It was only the second for Woonsocket on this day.
Rao nevertheless praised the defensive efforts of Cartier and Alexander, as well as Amaya.
â€śKyle Alexander is usually a midfielder, but he had to play sweeper for Sengsavang, and I thought he did a nice job back there,â€ť Rao noted. â€śWe had (junior midfielder) Kyle Girard go down with a back injury in the first half, so that didnâ€™t help matters.
â€śWe only have three returning seniors, and probably five returning starters, so weâ€™re pretty young,â€ť Rao added. â€śI start four sophomores, so weâ€™re going to have to see how they come around as the season progresses. Weâ€™re pretty much underclassmen, and they need to gain varsity experience.â€ť