By Nick Curcuru Sports Editor
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — MANCHESTER-- When the Manchester Essex boys soccer team woke up on Monday morning it appeared to be a real long shot when it came to a state tournament berth.
The Hornets record stood at 4-7-2, and with four games remaining, all over the next five days, the team could not afford to lose another game. If Manchester Essex didn’t compile a 3-0-1 record after those four games its season would come to an end. To make matters worse the Hornets were playing two teams, Rockport and Ipswich, who had already beaten them earlier in the season.
Manchester Essex got the ball rolling on Monday with a 3-2 win at Rockport, after falling behind 1-0 in the first minute, and kept it going throughout the week besting Ipswich 2-0 on Tuesday and battling defending Division 3 North champion Georgetown to a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
That set the stage for Friday’s tilt with Whittier, and the Hornets finished the job with a 3-1 win improving their record to 7-7-4 on the season and officially qualifying for the Division 3 North state tournament.
“We knew we were in a pretty bad position coming into the week and we knew if we lost once we were going home,” said Hornets senior captain Liam Aldrich, who had a pair of assists in Friday’s win. “We just came into that Rockport game fired up and we kept it rolling from there. It’s a great feeling to come back and get into the postseason and we are looking forward to the next step.”
Hornets head coach Rob Bilsbury was quick to praise his teams heart and resiliency.
“This is an absolutely awesome group of guys,” Bilsbury said. “Going into the week they knew what needed to be done. The biggest thing for us I thought was that bus ride to Rockport on Monday, everybody was totally quiet and thinking about the job they had to do. Rockport is the CAL Small champs and the team wasn’t intimidated and just battled and took that into the rest of the week. It speaks to the heart of this team, they just do not give up.”
Aldrich said the turning point of the week was Monday’s win over Rockport. After the Hornets bested the eventual CAL Small champs they had the confidence going into their next two tough games against Ipswich and Georgetown.
By the time Friday rolled around the Hornets were a team not only playing at the top of their game, their confidence was sky high.
“We started communicating well this week, none of us seniors wanted to go home and we all put in the effort,” Aldrich said. “Rockport was the turning point for us. They are the toughest team we’ve faced in the Cape Ann League. It felt great to beat them and it helped us keep it going throughout the week.”
On Friday Manchester Essex controlled play for the vast majority of the contest. Aldrich set up the team’s first goal when he hit fellow captain Pat Hagar with a nice cross, Hagar finished the job to make it 1-0 Hornets in the third minute.
Whittier Tech tied the score in the 28th minute on a penalty kick but Manchester Essex took the lead back six minutes later on a penalty kick of their own. After the ball hit off a Whittier defenders hand on a corner kick, Will Nadai buried the penalty kick for what turned out to be the game winner, giving the Hornets a 2-1 lead.
Early in the second half Tao Sardonicus gave Manchester Essex a bit of insurance putting home another Aldrich cross that deflected off the Whittier keeper. From there on in the defense did the talking, led by Sean Gutierrez and Winston Feurebach, the Hornets held Whittier to just one shot in the second half, and that shot was not from a threatening spot on the field and was not on goal.
“It was great team defense,” Bilsbury said. “Offensively we were good too, we like to play balls at our feet and possess and that’s what we did today. When we start to dribble and try to hit long balls we aren’t as strong, today we stuck to our strengths and played as a team. That’s just where we are right now, playing good team soccer.”
Manchester Essex now awaits its Division 3 North state tournament opponent, it already knows that it can beat any team out of the Cape Ann League Small and the CAL Small historically rules Division 3 North. Still the Hornets are taking it one game at a time.
The Hornets will enter the tournament with a bit of an advantage as they have been in state tournament mode all week, playing with their backs against the wall.
“We had to play great soccer and we were very focused all week,” Bilsbury said. “Hopefully that mind set carries into the state tournament. We are looking forward right now and we will continue to take it one match at a time.”