MARSHFIELD — The No. 12 Plymouth North boys soccer team’s run to the Div. 2 Final Four was living proof: trends, let alone game results, can be often tough to predict from afar late in the state tournament.
For top-seeded Oliver Ames, though? The recipe to success has sustained.
In three of the team’s four tournament games, both the Tigers’ defense has tightened up and posted a shutout and sophomore Andrew Martins, now a proven postseason presence, finds the back of the net.
More:HIGH SCHOOL ROUNDUP: South Shore MIAA state semifinal scores and highlights
Enter Final Four action against the No. 12 Blue Eagles (15-4-3) at Marshfield High on Wednesday — Martins drilled a free kick from straight on to provide the Tigers a two-goal cushion with eight minutes left, and the defense dismissed all last-hope pushes from Plymouth North to grant OA a 2-0 triumph and a trip to the Div. 2 state title game against No. 2 Hopkinton (19-1-2) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Walpole High.
It’s the program’s fourth state title game appearance since 2014, and Saturday’s game will be played right after the girls soccer team (16-3-1) clashes with No. 10 Silver Lake (11-3-8) for that respective state title crown at 3:15, the first such double-header in school history.
Plymouth North’s Kevin Riley steps in front of Oliver Ames’s Luke Churchill during first half action of the Division 2 state semifinal game against Oliver Ames at Marshfield High School on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Oliver Ames won 2-0.
“It’s an exciting moment. It’s a new group of kids. These kids were all up in the bleachers in 2014, but (the title game) was (at Marshfield High) when we lost to Concord-Carlisle 1-0. Our season ends now, no matter what, on Saturday. It’s a wonderful feeling to have,” said Oliver Ames coach John Barata, who is in his 14th season. “Obviously it’s nice to win it, but we’re going to really enjoy the moment, enjoy the opportunity and prepare for a very, very good Hopkinton team.”
More:For the first time in 15 years, Oliver Ames girls soccer is bound for state-title game
The OA offense found its first mark in the 19th minute, as Luke Churchill, also one of the team’s many productive sophomores, began his charge at midfield, hopped over an oncoming defender, then weaved through traffic and rifled a shot left side to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Postgame, Martins simply smiled and lauded.
“Luke Churchill, he doesn’t get talked enough about. He’s the best player, by far, I’ve seen in a long time,” Martins said. “He works so hard. He’s back-and-forth, I can’t even (explain how he plays). If you see him, he’s unbelievable. To see him score a goal like that in a playoff game, it was amazing. I love that kid.”
Oliver Ames’s Andrew Martins celebrates his goal to give Oliver Ames the 2-0 lead over Plymouth North during second half action of the Division 2 state semifinal game against Plymouth North at Marshfield High School on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Oliver Ames won 2-0.
Martins was also quick to shout out each contributing factor to the shutdown defensive back line, as OA clinched its 15th blank slate of the season.
“Hector (Bucio, a senior), absolute dog. Jake (Williams, senior), absolute dog. Diego (Rivera, junior) and Jackson (Mercieri, sophomore), dogs,” Martins praised.
The unit cleared three Plymouth North corner kicks in the waning minutes.
“We just knew that No. 10 (Plymouth North’s Ben Young) is a very explosive player for them. We knew that Ben can finish on a dime so you notice we gave him no looks on goal. We collapsed on him,” said Barata. “No. 25 (Malachi Val) on the set pieces was really our concern in this game. Once we put (Martins’ goal) in, it gave us a little bit more assurance.”
More:BVT ends Randolph High boys soccer’s historic season with history of its own
Not only more assurance, but also it also helped that pride of advancing sink in by leading 2-0 with eight minutes to play.
“Plymouth North, they’re a great team. Their (student) section was loud, chirpy. So it was great to get that goal and seal the game for us because it was getting really hectic and they were on our backs,” Martins said.
Oliver Ames’s Casey Milliken tries to maintain control of the ball while being defended by Plymouth North’s Bradlee Sorensen and Plymouth North’s Jack Corby during second half action of the Division 2 state semifinal game against Plymouth North at Marshfield High School on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Oliver Ames won 2-0.
Pleasing his own rowdy student section was also a perk of the goal, Martin’s fourth of the tournament.
“The community at the school is great. We’ve been winning, obviously, for a long time. But we haven’t made it this far in a couple years,” Martins noted the program’s fourth state title game appearance in eight years. “I think it’s great. The student section, our community is so involved with us and the girls made it too. We’re playing back-to-back on Saturday, it’s great.”
Plymouth North’s underdog run ends
Wednesday marked the Eagles’ fourth Final Four appearance since 1985, the last one coming in 1998.
“It’s been an incredible four-year journey with those seniors and it’s not just the seniors, which is great,” said Plymouth North head coach John Tocci. “It’s a special group because you have the right mix. It was a strong core of seniors, with some juniors, with some sophomores, with a couple freshmen who jumped in a little bit later. That’s been the beauty of the ride.”
No. 12 Plymouth North spoiled the tournament runs of No. 5 Holliston in the Round of 16 (2-1, PKs) and No. 4 Westboro (2-1) in the Elite Eight, but couldn’t quite scratch out a score against the No. 1 seed Wednesday night.
“Getting that Final Four trophy is priceless to us. We talked about moving the banner and changing it, getting the dust off of it has been our motto,” Tocci said. “They did it and that was awesome. I love that they didn’t concede and think that was it. Hey, we fought hard.”
Oliver Ames’s Jackson Mercer looks to get around Plymouth North’s Ben Young during second half action of the Division 2 state semifinal game against Plymouth North at Marshfield High School on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Oliver Ames won 2-0.
As junior Colin Riley Perec erased an OA chance on one end, the senior Val chased down a push-ahead from Young but OA sophomore goalkeeper Drew Hall corralled it to dampen North’s rush in the 68th minute.
“We just couldn’t get something on frame. We wanted that extra touch, we wanted that perfect lay-out. I thought (a goal) was coming,” Tocci looked back at the corner kicks and bids late. “But they fought hard. I’m not going to complain.”
Among the 13 seniors now set to depart the program, senior Josh Bates’ final game as an Eagle was a valiant effort. With OA leading in the shots-on-goal department through the first half (5-2), the goalkeeper returned to similar stardom in the second half by clearing a shot from Martins in the 47th minute.
“That kid wasn’t even a goalie (at first), he just said ‘I’ll play for you.’ Four years later, that kid should be even more than just a Patriot League All-Star,” Tocci said of Bates. “We have a great defense. That kid should’ve been Eastern Mass. All Star. He kept us in the run.”
This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Oliver Ames boys soccer is headed to Div. 2 state title game