Lincoln senior midfielder Matuez Puzanowski (20) moves the ball past a host of Providence Country Day defenders during Wednesday nightâ€™s Division II semifinal-round contest at Cranston Stadium, won by the Lions, 1-0. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
CRANSTON â€” After a scoreless initial half, Lincoln High head coach John D'Aloisio assembled his troops in front of a cage at Cranston Stadium on Wednesday night and informed them he wanted to employ a simplistic switch.
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Because Providence Country Day's defense would sag around the net whenever the Lions possessed the ball â€“ that in an effort to squelch any up-close attempts at Knights' sophomore keeper Justin LaRose, he wanted one of his forwards to hold back.
â€śWe pushed a forward up very high because they kept collapsing their defense; we placed him out by their last defender, and that gave us the option to play a longer ball in if we needed to,â€ť he stated.
The minor change may have worked just once, but it was more than enough for top-seeded Lincoln to dispatch fourth-ranked PCD, 1-0, in a R.I. Division II Tournament semifinal.
Senior Colby Alves played the role of hero in this masterfully-played tilt. With 27:03 remaining in the final stanza, he knocked down a feed from senior tri-captain Ryan Labrie, hustled down the left hashmarks and â€“ draped by a defending Knight â€“ slipped a right-footed try into a wide-open net.
That caused the Lincoln sideline to erupt with emotion.
â€śRyan sent a pass in front the middle, and it went over the top (of a couple of backs),â€ť Alves noted shyly, seemingly stunned at having flicked home the clincher. â€śI just chased it down and tapped it in.â€ť
When asked his first reaction to scoring, he simply said, â€śI felt it took a lot of weight off our shoulders, especially after the other (Saturday) night.â€ť
Alves was referring to a wild, emotional and â€“ yes, scary â€“ 2-1 shootout triumph over East Greenwich at his Chet Nichols Memorial Field home.
â€śThis feels so good,â€ť he sighed.
Here's why: With the victory, the Lions not only improved to 13-4-4 overall, but clinched a berth in the championship game. It will face the winner of second-seeded Coventry and No. 3 Toll Gate for the elusive D-II crown at 2 p.m., Saturday at the Rhode Island College soccer complex.
â€śThis is extremely small for a high school field,â€ť Coach D'Aloisio explained. â€śIt's only 100 yards by 55, and PCD was trying to spread it out. We like to pass and play a possession game, but we really couldn't do that given it's size. There wasn't a lot of room, so that (change at intermission) opened it up for us.
â€śThe thing is, we could play a longer ball from (our defensive territory); we'd have that forward get a long pass, hold it, and that allowed us to bring more players up the field and get open,â€ť he continued. â€śIt seemed to work.â€ť
And then some. Lincoln dominated time of possession in that second half, outshooting the Knights by a 10-4 count over the final 40 minutes.
That, however, didn't mean PCD didn't have its own chances to knot it to try and force overtime.
With 12:02 left in regulation, junior forward Harrison Igoe managed a high throw-in from deep down the right sideline. It appeared to bounce off a defender, and classmate John Tortolani somehow fed it to senior co-captain Thomas Horvat.
The midfielder/forward saw the ball at his foot as he stationed himself by the left post; he ripped a shot at Lions' junior goalie Jack Bacon, who dove to his right and deflected it from harm.
After that, D'Aloisio's crew dominated most of the final 11-plus minutes.
To be fair, the Knights controlled play for most of the opening session; in fact, it outshot the Lions, 5-4.
Lincoln started fast, taking two corner kicks in the first 50 seconds. A mere 3:25 later, PCD gained its first corner. Igoe delivered a line drive from the left to Horvat, who leaped over a pair of defenders and tried to head it into the cage.
Bacon, however, snagged the save.
With 11:54 left before intermission, sophomore Gabriel Zelaya-Rincon gave the Knights another solid chance when he took a pass from the left and sent a low-lining curler at Bacon, who again responded with a stop.
Perhaps PCD's finest attempt came with 4:10 remaining; that's when Igoe's throw-in from deep down the left sideline rolled around the crease, and â€“ through the scramble â€“ Horvat whacked a shot just outside the left post.
That left both contingents in a scoreless tie at the half.
Less than 10 minutes into the final stanza, Horvat corralled a deep through pass perhaps 10 yards out from Bacon and slipped it toward junior Nick Pacia, who was open in front of the goal. His right-footer, though, sailed just over the crossbar.
Exactly two minutes later, Lincoln senior tri-captain Mateuz (pronounced ma-TOWSH) Puzanowski heaved a left-side throw-in toward junior David Jessey. He, with his back to the netting, headed it back to LaRose, who snagged the save.
Only 1:52 after, Alves delivered the game-winner, and pretty much controlled it until the final whistles.
To his credit, LaRose finished with 13 stops, while Bacon recorded eight.
â€śAnytime you take that kind of pressure so close to the net and you don't allow a goal, that's special,â€ť D'Aloisio said of Bacon. â€śHe had to play right on top of their forwards when they were threatening, and he had to handle a ton of throw-ins.â€ť
The reasons behind Bacon's shutout, in part: The stellar kickouts and ball control of senior tri-captains Labrie and Alex D'Aloisio; Puzanowski; and fellow seniors Paul Roque and John Ariza.
â€śI will say that (Horvat), with his leaping ability, was virtually unstoppable,â€ť he said. â€śHe's a great player.â€ť
When told his Lions had stopped him, he just smiled, â€śThis is a terrific win, but we have one more.â€ť