WOONSOCKET — It’s been said time and time again in sports that if you want to be the best, you have the beat the best.
On Tuesday afternoon, Woonsocket played what many high school enthusiasts believe is ‘the team to beat’ in Division II, defending state champ Smithfield, and while the Novans didn’t come away with a victory, they picked up the next best thing — a draw.
Senior goalkeeper Kory Lawrence turned away 14 shots and the rest of the Villa Novans’ defense, as it did in its first two games of the season, played superbly to help Woonsocket play to a hard-fought scoreless tie at Barry Field.
The Sentinels, who won their first two games of the season by a combined score of 12-0, ruled the first half of play before ending up outshooting the Novans by a 14-11 margin.
“We’re very happy with the draw,” offered Woonsocket coach Andrew Rao, whose crew also kicked off its season with consecutive victories, but only by a 4-1 count. “One of our captains was out and (Smithfield’s) a very good team, a very skilled team, so a draw was good.”
How good are the Sentinels? They graduated 10 seniors from last season’s 14-2 team, but they came back with an equally-talented, senior-oriented lineup that features arguably the finest sweeper in the division in Cory Speroni and top-notch scorers in Joe Pate and Tim Cabral.
“I think they are,” Rao said when asked if Smithfield has the best team in the division. “I think they and Tolman seem to be leading the way in our division.”
As for the Novans, who are off to their best start since they recorded back-to-back 10-4-2 seasons in 2004 and ’05 and moved up to Division I the following season, they also boast a club loaded with seniors with three years of varsity experience, as well as some talented juniors and sophomores.
“The kids are older and a lot of them have been with me for three years,” noted Rao. “We have 12 seniors on our team that played a year of Division I and then last year in Division II. They kind of grew up with the program and took their lumps over the years.”
Lawrence, who totaled 22 saves in the Novans’ season-opening 2-0 triumph over Mount St. Charles and 2-1 victory over Mount Pleasant, wasn’t called upon to make too many flashy saves in Wednesday’s tie, but in the second half, he made two sprawling stops on shots made by Cabral [Smithfield’s goal-scoring leader with four] and Alex Bedrosian.
While Lawrence did a fine job, so did the likes of sweeper Destri Desilets, stopper Cody L’Heureux, and fullbacks Steven Silva and Sebastian Mercado, as they each did their part to contain the high-scoring Sentinels.
“Our defense is fairly strong,” reported Rao. “Any time you can shut them down, you’re doing well. (Smithfield) had better opportunities, but out defense played very well.”
The Novans’ best chance to score came midway through the second half on a corner kick by Mercado that sailed near the mouth of the goal and in heavy traffic next to goalkeeper Chase Richard, but Richard managed to punch the ball away before a white jersey could gain control of it.
The Sentinels took a big hit late in the contest, when with six minutes to play, midfielder Jobe Ebrima broke his right arm and needed to be carted off the field and transported to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Pawtucket.
The Novans return to action tonight with a 7 p.m. makeup game in Bristol against Mount Hope, and on Friday, they will venture to Pawtucket’s McKinnon-Alves Complex for a 4 p.m. showdown against Tolman, which improved to 3-0 on Tuesday by nipping Cranston West, 1-0.