Athol boys hold off rival Mahar for 3-2 victory
ORANGE — The Athol High School boys’ soccer team waited 42 days for Friday’s rematch with rival Mahar. The Raiders made the most of it as they walked out of the James S. Woodward Athletic Complex with a 3-2 victory.
It looked as if the Raiders would roll to victory as the Senators looked sluggish in their third game in as many nights and Athol built a 3-0 lead behind a trio of Tyler Lajoie tallies.
“We played a perfect game for the first 35 minutes,” said Athol head coach David King. “We did exactly what we’ve been training to do. Everything was executed well.”
The Senators awoke from their stupor as Eli Smith pumped in a pair of goals in the final two minutes of the first half to make it a one goal game at the break.
The goals gave Mahar life after the Raiders missed several opportunities to blow the game wide open in the first half. Mahar goalkeeper Bryce Cleveland made a number of key saves to keep his team in the contest.
“Their keeper kept them in the game,” said King. “It could have been 6-0 at any point. We ended up giving them life and they are a good team. That’s the best Mahar team I’ve seen in 15 years of coaching and we didn’t play a very good game over the last 45 minutes. Our guys played with a lot of heart and determination, however, and that helped us get the win.”
The Senators controlled play for much of the second half, but the Raiders’ defense kept them at bay while forcing Mahar to settle for shots from the perimeter. Athol failed to generate any scoring opportunities in the second half.
“It was an awesome second half,” said Mahar head coach Dan Guertin. “We fought and did a much better job of controlling possession in the second half.”
King credited fullback Riley Carey with stepping up to preserve the victory.
“He gave us 80 minutes and he was a lockdown, superstar,” said King. “Without his efforts, we wouldn’t have had the success we did. It was his opportunity to step up and shine and he did that for us tonight.”
Lajoie put Athol on top just 3:17 into the contest. Owen King gained control in the midfield and chipped a ball over the top. Lajoie proceeded to run by Jack Temple and Shawn Dennis and buried a shot inside the right post.
In the 10th minute, Lajoie ran past four Mahar defenders and found himself 1-on-1 with Cleveland. The junior goalkeeper managed to make a beautiful save to his right to keep the deficit at one.
Less than a minute later, Athol capitalized on a free-kick as Nelson Leadbetter played a ball into the box from 35 yards out. Lajoie jumped over a pair of Mahar defenders and headed a shot past Cleveland for a 2-0 lead just 10:45 into the contest.
The Senators opted to remove their mark from Lajoie after 15 minutes in an attempt to gain some possession in the midfield. The move worked for awhile, but Lajoie took advantage of some sloppy ballhandling for his third goal of the night in the 26th minute. Anthony Negron chipped a ball into the box and a Mahar defender fell down while back pedaling. Lajoie raced onto the loose ball and hammered a shot inside the right post for a 3-0 lead.
Lajoie had a chance to add to the lead in the 27th minute as he found himself 1-on-1 with Cleveland. The Mahar goalkeeper came sliding out and was able to trip up Lajoie and prevent a potential goal.
A similar play came in the 29th minute as Lajoie was all alone with Cleveland who again came sliding out. This time Cleveland made a clean grab of the ball to stop Lajoie.
In the 32nd minute, Lajoie raced onto a through ball and fired a shot towards the left post from 12 yards out. Cleveland was able to make the lunging save.
Cleveland’s best save came in the 37th minute as an Athol corner kick found Avery Clyatt on the weakside. Clyatt fired a pass across the six and King one-touched. Cleveland made a diving stop to his right to keep the Senators within three.
Smith proceeded to field a cross from Owen Cook in the 39th minute and hammered a shot inside the left post to cut the deficit to two. Less than a minute later, Cook found Smith on a through ball and the senior snuck a shot inside the near post to make it a 3-2 game just before halftime.
The loss was just the second of the year for the Senators (13-2-3). Athol wraps up the regular season with a 10-6-2 mark. Both teams will participate in the tournament.