CRANSTON — The No. 2 Coventry soccer team hadn’t allowed more than two goals in any game this season.
In 18 destructive minutes Tuesday evening in the Division II semifinals at Cranston Stadium No. 3 Toll Gate hammered three goals past Coventry goalie Domenic Aguiar.
The Oakers finally settled the game down and found a lifeline in a goal from freshman Matt Buglio in the 36th minute, but the rampant Titans added a fourth goal just before halftime to advance to their first division final since 1990 with a 4-1 victory.
“In the first half we just couldn’t get anybody to mark (Josh) Sandin,” Coventry coach Jamie Cotnoir said after guiding the Oakers to their first semifinal since 2003. “We could not keep up with him. Finally, in the second half Nate Anderson shut him down, but the damage was already done.”
“I have no idea what happened at the start of the game. It was just a breakdown starting in the midfield and went through to the defense,” Anderson, a senior captain, said. “We just let up too many goals.”
When Coventry (10-4-3 Division II) defeated Toll Gate 4-2 at the end of the regular season Sandin didn’t play in that game, so Coventry had no idea how fast and how destructive the junior could be playing alongside fellow forwards Nate DaCosta and Jose Beltran.
Sandin only had one goal – the opener – but he assisted on two other and created plenty of other chances for his teammates.
“It definitely hurt that we didn’t see him the last time we played them,” Anderson said. “He’s very good. We practiced on a turf field Monday (at Teamworks in Warwick) to try and get ready for the speed of the field, but I guess were just not that used to it.”
The No. 3 Titans (10-2-5 Division II) will meet No. 1 Lincoln, which beat PCD 1-0 in the other semifinal, for the Division II title Saturday at Rhode Island College. The Titans beat the Lions during the regular season.
It took Sandin all over two minutes to create enough space at the top of the box to place a shot to Aguiar’s left for the opening goal of the contest. Fifteen minutes later Sandin delivered a perfect corner kick which was finished off by Beltran, who scored the last time the two teams met.
“Of course it was a disadvantage we didn’t get to face him the last time,” Cotnoir said. “Obviously he’s their man. They play over the top. They play fast and if you can’t stop them you’re going to have problems.”
Toll Gate became the first team in over a year to score three goals against Coventry when Manny Pickering scored in the 19th minute.
In an attempt to slow down Toll Gate, Cotnoir inserted freshman Robert Regine as a right defender and slid Ryan Buglio and Anderson further forward to try and win the midfield battle.
The move paid off in the 36th minute, as Matt Buglio slipped a shot past goalie Ezequiel Franco after a nice pass from Sam Burton.
If Coventry could’ve scored the next goal prior to halftime they might’ve had a chance to comeback on the Titans for the second time in two weeks, but DaCosta scored in the 40th minute to consign the Oakers to defeat.
“I felt like we were settling down and I felt like we could make a run to try and get back into it,” Cotnoir said. “If we score instead of them that swings the momentum our way.”
Colin Samuell and Evan Simpanen both had great scoring chances turned away by Franco in a second half which featured plenty of chances for both teams. Cotnoir continued to push more and more players forward, but the Titans wouldn’t budge.
The defeat is bitter sweet for many seniors, including Anderson, fellow captain Andrew LeCampion, Lee Geyer, Jared Vincent, Jason Miech and Samuell. On the one hand their high-school soccer careers are over, but on the other hand they ushered in a new era of Coventry soccer.
“It feels pretty good to do what we’ve done,” Anderson said. “It was the first home quarterfinal game in 20 years and the first time we’ve been in the semifinals in 10 years. Let’s hope the kids in the future can keep this success going.”