GROTON – The first half of the Groton-Dunstable Crusaders boys’ soccer team’s MIAA Division 1 Central opening-round game against the twelfth-seed Worcester North Polar Bears was lopsided in every aspect but the score, which was 0-0 after 40 minutes.
So G-D head coach Sean Wisbey made an adjustment, bringing three players up front to increase the offensive pressure. It worked, as the Polar Bears’ defense broke down, allowing the Crusaders to come away with a 2-0 victory Tuesday at G-DRHS.
The Crusaders outshot the Polar Bears 27-4 and kept the ball in the offensive half for the vast majority of the game, except for a couple of chances in the first half and one in the second, all of which Crusader keeper Chris Buzan stopped, registering four saves along the way. The Polar Bear defense held up its end of the bargain as well, as the Crusaders couldn’t capitalize on their offensive chances in the first half.
“[The Polar Bears] were playing five guys in the back, and they were really playing deep,” G-D head coach Sean Wisbey said. “We didn’t get enough pressure on them in the first 40 minutes to force any mistakes. They did a good job of just trying to stay in the game.”
Dean Tornaritis scored the only goal the Crusaders would need in the 63rd minute on their 22nd shot of the game. With lots of traffic in front of Polar Bears keeper Angelo Perrone, Matt Krikorian found Tornaritis on the right side, who headed it in to raucous cheers from the sizeable Crusader crowd.
Four minutes later, Mitch Wheeler put the game out of reach off a feed from Gabe Dingle. Wheeler tapped a slow roller off the side of his foot, and Perrone overplayed the ball, allowing it to trickle in on the far side.
“Once we had the lead, I was able to put four in the back, and eventually five,” Wisbey said. “I didn’t think that we played our best soccer the first 50 minutes, but as we started to settle down and play more as a team, the opportunities started to come.”
The Crusaders had two golden chances to get on the scoreboard early in the second half. First, Krikorian fed a cross to a sliding Wheeler, but he put it wide of the near post. Later, Dingle fired a bullet from the edge of the box, but Perrone made the best of his 11 saves by leaping to tip it over the crossbar.
The Crusaders (13-4-2) got the short end of the draw in a three-way tie with Wachusett and Westborough for third place in the MIAA Division 1 Central standings, with each of them finishing with a winning percentage of .722. By virtue of coin flips, they got the fifth seed and had to play in the opening round while Wachusett and Westborough, the third and fourth seeds respectively, enjoyed a bye.
Now they will travel to Westborough for their third match of the season against the Rangers Wednesday at 2 p.m in the sectional quarterfinals. Both teams won on the other’s turf in the regular season. The Crusaders won 4-3 on September 18, while the Rangers rallied late to steal a 3-2 win and the Midland-Wachusett B Division championship in the regular season finale last Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot to play for, and a lot to prove to ourselves,” Wisbey said. “We’ll get ready tomorrow to go get that ticket to the semifnals.”
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