By Mac Cerullo
---- — WEST NEWBURY — After a dominant showing in the regular season, the Pentucket Avalanche U-14 Boys Soccer team swept through this past weekend’s Massachusetts Tournament of Champions to win the state championship and finish the season undefeated.
The Avalanche never trailed at any point during the tournament, allowing just one goal in five games against some of the best teams in the state. Pentucket capped off the weekend with an exclamation point, blowing out Sharon 6-0 in the state championship game to finish the year 15-0-1.
“We had a great season. The boys really started to gel together around the last quarter of the season and they never looked back,” said head coach Scott Blanchard. “They were a confident group and they played really hard every game.”
To qualify for the MTOC, the Avalanche first had to win the Essex County Youth Soccer Association Championship, which proved to be one of the most difficult challenges the team faced all season. After receiving a bye and beating Lynn 5-1 in the semifinals, Pentucket came back from a late deficit to beat North Andover 2-1 in overtime to win the championship.
“That was a hard-fought tournament,” Blanchard said. “We played North Andover in the championship and the boys were down 1-0 really late in the game, and we tied it with 30 seconds left to force overtime and we scored the game winning goal with 30 seconds left in overtime.”
With their spot in the MTOC secure, Blanchard and his team of 13 players made the hour-long trek down I-495 to the massive Massachusetts Youth Soccer complex in Lancaster, where the MTOC was held.
As in the World Cup, the first phase of the tournament consists of a Group Stage in which four teams play a series of three games against one another, and the team that comes out on top advances to the semifinals.
Pentucket had little trouble advancing out of its group, shutting out each of its three opponents. The Avalance beat Pembroke 3-0 in their first game, Dalton 1-0 in their second and Worcester 3-0 to clinch their place in the semifinals.
Once there, Pentucket played what would turn out to be its toughest opponent of the tournament, Holy Cross from the Pioneer Valley League out near Springfield. Pentucket won the game 2-1, and in the state championship game against Sharon, the Avalanche blew out their opponents 6-0 to run away with the title.
“We certainly didn’t expect that,” Blanchard said. “Every game was certainly challenging. The boys just came together really well near the end of the season, and they started to string together some great games. In the end every opportunity we had we put the ball in the net.”
Blanchard credited his team for coming together late in the season and said that by the time they reached the MTOC, he knew they would have a great chance to win. He also singled out a handful of players, including goalkeeper Nate Constantino, an eighth-grader and assistant captain who allowed just one goal in the entire MTOC; midfielder Brian Edmands, an eighth-grader who scored the tying goal in the North Andover game and the first goal in the MTOC Championship game; sweeper Connor Mooney, a seventh-grader who scored the game-winning goal against North Andover; striker Sam Smith, a seventh-grader who scored the majority of the team’s goals; and stopper Liam McDonough, an eighth-grader and team captain who Blanchard said was the team’s leader on the field.
“He’s been our team leader for the season and he’s the guy who directs the field activity out there,” Blanchard said.
In addition to the ECYSA and MTOC championships, Pentucket was also awarded the tournament’s Team Sportsmanship Award. Rick Leblanc, the president of the Pentucket Youth Soccer Association, said that at this stage winning the sportsmanship award is nearly as important as the championship itself.
“It speaks to the character of the kids on and off the field when no one is watching,” Leblanc said. “It’s a true testament to their character and the leadership of the coaches.”
Pentucket Avalanche U-14 State Champions
Players: Michael Armao, Trevor Blanchard, Nate Constantino, Peter Danis, Patrick Dillon, Brian Edmands, Ryan Gallagher, Cameron Hegarty, Liam McDonough, Jake Messier, Connor Mooney, Thomas Moura-Cook, James Mozzer, Jack Queenan and Sam Smith. Coaches: head coach Scott Blanchard, assistant coaches Ralph McDonough and Bill Dillon.