ROCKPORT — After decades on the bench for the Rockport boys soccer team, coach Dave Curley is no stranger to the state tournament.
His teams that have enjoyed the most postseason success, Curley said, have shared the same three attributes: health, timely scoring and strong goaltending.
The No. 5 seed Vikings found that recipe last night when they hosted No. 12 seed North Reading, a Cape Ann League rival, in the first round of the Division 3 North tournament. In a tightly-contested, physical contest, Rockport broke through for a goal midway through the second half and senior goalkeeper Eric Littlefield was able to preserve that lead as the Vikings advanced to the North quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory.
“That’s high school soccer and that’s Cape Ann League soccer,” Curley said. “That’s the way this league has been all year long. It’s really a shame, just the luck of the draw, that North Reading and Rockport had to meet so early. Those are two very, very good teams. Just a great back-and-forth game.”
For a time, it seemed as though neither team would budge. Both the Vikings and Hornets played fast and physical, and their respective backlines prevented many quality chances from getting through.
And when they did, Littlefield (10 saves) and North Reading goalkeeper Josh Intorcio (eight saves) were there to turn them away.
Ultimately, though, Littlefield won the goalkeeper battle. After senior captain Tucker Meredith flicked a header past Intorcio with 20 minutes left to play, Littlefield locked his net down.
If it weren’t for a phenomenal, sprawling save by Littlefield with 10 minutes to play, it’s likely last night’s game would have gone to overtime.
But when North Reading’s David Donegan laced a set piece toward the top corner from just outside the penalty box, Littlefield was there, diving up and to his left to deflect the ball off the post and out of bounds to preserve the Vikings’ lead and send them on to the quarterfinals, where they’ll meet No. 4 seed St. Mary’s on Tuesday at Manning Field in Lynn (6:00).