NORTH PROVIDENCE --- One not-so-great half of soccer resulted in North Smithfield High’s first loss of the season on Thursday afternoon.
North Providence High received a pair of second-half goals from Alexander Mendoza to break a 1-1 tie and soar to a 3-1 triumph over the Northmen in their battle of Division III-North unbeatens at the Ricci Athletic Complex.
The Cougars, who outshot the Northmen by a 17-8 margin, had a 10-3 advantage in that department in the second half and took the bulk of their shots in the final 15 minutes of play, as they tried to build on their two-goal lead, but came up empty.
“I have to tip my hat off to them,” N.S. coach Ryan Dubois said of his host. “They came out and played the whole second half, from the first whistle to the last, and that was the difference. They just outplayed us in that half, and hats off to them, they’re a great team.”
The Northmen (3-1) grabbed a 1-0 lead on junior Walker Strick’s fourth goal of the year, as he headed in a long direct kick from Dan Thifault out of the reach of goalkeeper Dean Maguire just six minutes into play.
But N.P. (3-0) tied the score six minutes later on an unassisted goal by Dillon McCluskie, who ripped a 20-yard shot that sailed to the left of a diving attempt by goalie Evan Dalton and landed in the top corner of the net.
Mendoza snapped the tie nine minutes into the second half by scoring off the rebound of a penalty kick he was awarded when a Northmen defender got called for a handball in the penalty area.
Dalton batted away Mendoza’s penalty kick with a sprawling stop to his left, but the ball went right to Mendoza, who took a couple of steps and easily tapped it past Dalton.
His second goal came midway through the half when he took a pass from McCluskie and lofted a high 25-yard shot that found its way over the leap and outstretched arm of Dalton and into the top right-corner of the goal.
The Northmen’s best chance to get back on the board in the second half came in the early stages when Strick tried to score on a header during a scramble for the ball in front of the net with Maguire out of position. But Strick’s header went right into McCluskie’s chest, and the Cougars were able to quickly bring the ball back down the other end of the field.
“No one likes to lose, but it’s a long season and maybe a loss like this isn’t a bad thing,” said Dubois. “This should help us get back in check and keep working hard.”
Hard work has been nothing new for the Northmen, who have a veteran team this season that is trying to return to their winning ways after a two-year absence from the top of the division. From 2005-08, the Northmen totaled 47 regular-season victories and appeared in the finals in each season, winning the championship in ’05 and ’06.
“The past couple of years have been a rebuilding process,” added Dubois. “We’ve taken our lumps, but the juniors and seniors now that I’ve had as freshmen and sophomores have worked hard and put a lot of years in, and now it’s to a point where were starting to see some payoff from it.”
As for returning to the summit of the league, the Northmen hope to be in the thick of the battle for the top spot with the likes of defending Division III champion Classical High and the Cougars.
“The North is very tough,” said Dubois. “There are two very good teams in Classical and North Providence, but I think we should be able to play with them. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think we should be up there by the end of the year.”
North Smithfield 1 – 0 – 1
North Providence 1 – 2 – 3
First half: NS – Walter Strick (Dan Thifault), 6:00; NP – Dillon McCluskie (unassisted), 12:00.
Second half: NP – Alexander Mendoza (unassisted), 10:00; NP – Alexander Mendoza (Dillon McCluskie), 21:00.
Shots on goal: North Smithfield 8, North Providence 17. Goalie saves: NS – Evan Dalton (14 saves); NP – Dean Maguire (7 saves).