By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — AMESBURY — That should make up for things.
The Newburyport boys soccer team has gotten the short end of the stick of late. First the team’s big ALS Cup night game was canceled in favor of a sparsely attended day game loss to Pentucket, then its senior day was washed away by Hurricane Sandy a week later.
But the Clippers (11-6-2) made up for all of that at the Amesbury Sports Park last night, beating Lynnfield 2-1 in a dog fight of a Division 3 North tournament quarterfinal, to advance to the semifinals for the first time in over six years.
Added to the euphoria was the revenge factor for the 10-seeded Clippers who were eliminated by the Pioneers (9-8-3) in the first round one year to the day, and Newburyport coach Shawn Bleau said he was glad to return the favor.
“It was definitely good to get them back,” Bleau said of the 15th-seeded Pioneers (10-8-3). “Lynnfield is one of the better teams in the league over the past 10 years now, and it’s a big win for our program to knock them off, definitely.”
Newburyport will meet the winner of last night’s game between 14th-seed Ipswich and sixth-seed Watertown in the semifinals later this week.
The game was a barn-burner, with both defenses coming up large. Newburyport started out on the attack in the first 10 minutes of play, then Lynnfield came at the Clippers hard. The Clippers changed the momentum at the halfway mark when forward Adam Traxler grabbed a hold of the ball from fellow co-captain Jordy Steelman, juggled it directly in front of Pioneer goalkeeper Joe Bassi, and found a hole to give Newburyport the 1-0 lead going into the half.
The second half saw Lynnfield scoring just five minutes in when Pat Kearney hit a dead-on shot up and directly off of Newburyport goalkeeper Matt Canning’s hands on a throw-in, killing whatever momentum the Clippers might have been trying to build.
The rest of the half put the large fan base on pins and needles as Lynnfield got off another four shots to Newburyport’s two, and things began to look as if the game might go into overtime. But Traxler wasn’t done. With less than five minutes to go in regulation, Traxler grabbed possession once again from Steelman, then proceeded to work his way through three Pioneer defenders and hit his second shot of the day over Bassi’s head.
“We knew we needed one, and I just happened to be there,” the all-league Traxler humbly said of his late-game heroics. “It was all (Steelman) and (Eagan) in there.”
All-league standout Steelman and all-star Eagan, both seniors, came up big in the midfield, cutting a path through the Pioneers’ middle and back ends.
“I said to myself before tonight: ‘I don’t want to play my last game tonight’.” said Eagan, a senior. “I think I want to end it with a win. We’ve just got to try to keep going, and there is no way we’re stopping now. We’re just got to keep pushing forward to win everything.”
Pioneers coach Brent Munroe was disappointed with the outcome, but was proud of his team’s season.
“It was a great game,” said Munroe. “We’re two really good teams, and they capitalized more than we did. They’ve got a great player up front in (Traxler). We had our chances; we just didn’t get them in. (But) we achieved a lot this year. I’m really thrilled with our group. We just didn’t get what we needed.”
“I’m proud of this team,” said Bleau, who has now guided his squad to its furthest point in his four-year career as head coach. “They did a great job to get to this point, and hopefully one more game gets us to the finals.”