By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — It was gut-check time for the Newburyport boys soccer team yesterday as the Clippers faced the team that ended its season last fall in the state tournament.
The Clippers passed the test with a 3-2 victory over Lynnfield thanks to a monster game from sophomore Tom Graham, who picked up his first varsity hat trick at Cherry Hill.
“Since Adam (Traxler) was out, I needed to step up,” Graham said of the league-leading scorer who went down with an ankle sprain against Georgetown Tuesday . “I haven’t been playing up alone this season. So, it was new and I liked it. I think I can continue that and build off this game.”
Yesterday was also a chance for Newburyport to exact some revenge on the Pioneers (5-6-2), who eliminated the Clippers from the state tournament last year. But things didn’t start out well for the Clippers as Lynnfield got on the board quickly, courtesy of a header from Pat Kearney past Newburyport goalkeeper Matt Canning, assisted by Kevin Carr only eight minutes into play.
But the Clippers (7-4-1) kept their cool, answering back 10 minutes later as Graham nailed his first goal, a long, rolling shot past Pioneers’ keeper Joe Bassi’s left side, assisted by senior co-captain Jordy Steelman. Two minutes after that, Graham hooked up with senior John Milton on a shot past Bassi’s right side to put Newburyport up 2-1 going into the half.
“We talked about that at practice the other day, that we needed to step up, losing Adam,” said Newburyport coach Shawn Bleau. “And (Graham) was the go-to guy. We pushed him up, and we gave him enough room not to come back. He hit it better than I expected.”
Lynnfield came out with more fire in their bellies in the second half, enough for Adrian Jablonka to nail a header of his own assisted by Mike Demirchian to tie things at 2-2 at the 18-minute mark. But Graham showed he had more in the tank soon after, nailing a corner kick from senior Allan Eagan to give Newburyport the lead and the win.
“Hopefully this will give us momentum going into next week,” said Bleau. “We get back into the Division 1 teams next week, and we’ve got to be ready for it to get into the tournament here.”
Bleau praised his defense and midfielders Eagan and Steelman, both of whom put in indefatigable performances with both seniors on the field for the entire game, marshaling the troops and moving the ball where it needed to go. Bleau also gave some insight into the plans for his injured 15-point scorer, Traxler.
“We’re going to look at him Monday,” Bleau said of Traxler. “And if the swelling keeps going down like it is, we might give him a run on Monday. But we’ll see how it is on Monday.”
Now slipping under .500 heading down the stretch, Pioneers coach Brent Munroe knows he has his work cut out for him.
“It was a tough game for us to lose,” said Munroe. “We scored first. We usually defend well, but we didn’t defend very well in the first half at all and it hurt us. (Newburyport) was good up front, too. They’re one of the better teams we’ve faced up front. It is what it is.”