LINCOLN — Lincoln High head coach Mike Ethier and his troops had hoped to derail the express that is Smithfield in a Division III “Battle of Unbeatens” at Tiberii Field on Thursday afternoon.
Despite the fact that the Sentinels had entered the contest as the two-time defending D-III champion and had posted 36 consecutive league wins dating back to 2011, Ethier believed his Lions had the wherewithal to pull off what – at least this season – would be only a mild upset.
Alas, it didn’t happen. After Lincoln knotted it at 4-4 midway through the third period, Smithfield erupted for three unanswered goals in the span of 3:37 to gain an 8-5 triumph.
When asked what phase of his club’s game displeased him most, Ethier laughed, “Losing!” He then explained, “To be honest, they’re the second-highest scoring team in the state behind La Salle, which is scoring 18-plus a game. We’re in the top five, so holding them to eight is an achievement.
“The thing is, we just allowed too many.
“Our game plan really never changes,” he continued. “We wanted to score early and often, be physical and try to play our game. We like to let other teams follow our lead. Obviously, Smithfield has a great team, and all the tools are there. They’re going to go deep into the playoffs, and we want to do the same thing.
“I thought our defense played well (among them senior Adam Petit, sophomore Tom Janicki, junior Spencer Rao and senior midfielder Mike Sullivan), but we had too many penalties. They took advantage of some of our mistakes, not to mention turnovers.
“We did the little things well – throwing, catching and ground balls – but, again, we made too many mistakes to win.”
Junior Nick Gerlach mustered a hat trick, senior Brendan Benoit chipped in two goals and two assists and classmate Louis Catarina manufactured another two tallies to pace the Sentinels, who moved to 7-0.
As for Ethier’s crew, it fell to 6-1 in league action, despite senior attacker Kyle Ratte’s three goals and classmate/middie Ryan Krohto’s tally and feed.
The Sentinels didn’t need long to snag a 1-0 advantage, as Gerlach drilled past senior goalie Zack Heon an unassisted goal only 1:26 into the first quarter. Exactly 2:34 later, junior Aaron Fiske issued a stellar pass to Ratte, who skipped his shot past Macera to knot it.
A mere 3:02 into the second, Lincoln took its first and only lead of the game when Krohto bounced an attempt past Macera, but Smithfield recorded three unanswered goals to take a 4-2 cushion.
Just 27 ticks after Krohto’s conversion, Catarina rolled around a defender and beat Heon to tie it, and Benoit ripped junior Bryan Kordick’s pass into the netting to give the Sentinels a 3-2 cushion at the 7:33 mark.
And, with 2:03 left, Kordick raced in from the right and fired at Heon, who made the initial save, though Kordick gathered the rebound and whacked it home for the 4-2 halftime advantage.
Undaunted, the Lions battled back. It should be noted that senior tri-captain Jerzy Polak, who replaced Heon for the final 24 minutes, made several superlative saves initially.
In the interim, Ratte took a pass from classmate Chris McCarthy only 1:36 into the third and roped it past Macera to slice the deficit to 4-3; and – with Smithfield senior Chris Tannock on the sidelines due to a 60-second slashing infraction – Ratte needed just 15 ticks to skip a Krohto feed past Macera and tie it for the third time at 4-4.
Yet again, though, the Sentinels rebounded, registering three straight tallies. Gerlach gave the visitors the lead for good with an unassisted goal with 3:38 remaining in the third, and Benoit snapped in a man-advantage pass from Catarina 37 seconds later to make it 6-4.
(Senior tri-captain and defender Mark Barrett had been issued a flag for an illegal bodycheck just 14 seconds before Benoit’s goal).
Smithfield senior Matt Walker gave his teammates a 7-4 cushion when he spun and rifled home an unassisted tally 22 ticks into the final session.
Lincoln did slice the gap to 7-5 when senior attack Andrew Potter saw the ball on the turf and swept it through the goalkeep exactly 90 seconds after Benoit scored. And, with 9:26 left, Wood raced down the right sideline and ripped a low skipper at Macera, who made a fantastic stick save.
The Sentinels, however, virtually iced the triumph when – with 5:30 remaining, and only 15 seconds after Barrett had been whistled for a 30-second “push with possession” foul – Gerlach delivered a Benoit pass into the goal.
All told, Macera closed with six saves, while Heon managed three and Polak nine.
“We had a challenge (Wednesday) against North Smithfield/Burrillville (Co-op); we were losing, 3-0, but ended up scoring with 20 seconds left to win 8-7,” head coach Joe Renzi stated later. “I knew these guys would be dead tired, so I tried to sub in as much as I could.
“The good news is we hung in there,” he added. “We just didn’t stop, but a couple of goals in this sport is nothing. Lincoln’s a good team; there’s a reason they were 6-0, and you knew it’s because they never forget (mentally) to step off the bus. They dropped down from D-II, but they’re really aggressive.
“They didn’t surprise me at all. I expected them to play well, and they definitely did. I just hope they don’t get any better!”