RCS gearing up for sectional competition
By John Bernhardt
Every game of the Section IV playoffs is an elimination game. One team climbs up the post-season ladder towards a possible championship and the other team goes home. An elimination game atmosphere fires up the passion, kicks up the focus and “sharpens the saw.”
For the Roxbury girls’ soccer team every game over the past two weeks has been an elimination game. The Rockets found themselves with their backs against a wall as they approached their final five games of the regular season. Four games below .500 at the time, the Rockets knew a single loss would mean elimination from a chance to extend their season into the playoffs.
Looking back, nothing could have prepared Lisa Faraci’s team better for the rigors of the Section IV playoffs than their elimination game challenge. Faraci’s Rockets were up to the task, going 4-0-1 over their final five games to finish 7-7-1 on the season. Roxbury sealed the deal beating Stamford, 3-2, and Jefferson, 3-1, on its home field last week.
Roxbury’s outside forward Megan Cronk was in the thick of the action Wednesday against Stamford. Cronk took the Rockets’ first scoring chance five minutes into the contest. firing a shot that sailed just outside the pole.
It took a pinball like scoring sequence for Stamford’s scoring ace Kim Freer to find enough room away from the persistent defensive presence of Roxbury’s Jade Meehan to net the game’s first goal at 24:53 of the first half. The scoring sequence began with an Indian outside forward running down a through pass in the right corner and firing a shot on the goal. The ball was deflected off at least two players in front of the goal, traveling beyond Roxbury’s goalie Lisa Boyke, then caroming off Freer and into the nets for the score.
Roxbury answered one minute later. Shannon Sprague burst past an Indian defender on the left side of the box and ripped a shot on goal. A full extension dive allowed Stamford goalie Nikki McGrath to redirect the shot away from the goal, but Cronk came streaking from the right wing to clean up the rebound for the tying score.
Making their move
Roxbury surged into the lead with just under 14:00 to play in the opening half. Chloe O’Shaunghnessy battled for the ball in the right corner of Roxbury’s end and was pushed to the ground by an Eagle defender earning an infraction call. Shannon Sprague lifted a nifty direct kick high and hard, tucking her shot just under the cross pole and into the side of the net.
Stamford knotted things at 2-2 early in the second half. The Indian’s Gabby Ciazza took advantage of a Rocket miscue when a defensive fullback came up with nothing but air attempting to make a clear. When the ball skipped past, Ciazza ran it down and fired a 12-yard strike high inside the outer pole for a score.
The Rockets picked up the game winner at 31:55 of the second half. Sprague pushed a through ball from deep on the defensive end of the field to open space. Lacey Stewart ran the ball down then battled an Indian defender before sending a cross in the direction of the goal. Perfectly positioned, Cronk was there to play the pass. Cronk settled the cross then hesitated just long enough to entice the sole defender in her direction, skidding a shot, left to right against the grain, and into the nets for the game winner.
With over 30 minutes left to play, Faraci moved Sprague from the midfield to sweeper attempting to preserve the lead. It was a wise move that paid dividends.
Even so, it was a brilliant save in the goal by Boyke that ultimately made the difference. When the Rockets were called for a defensive infraction, Stamford was awarded a direct kick close to the goal, the ball placed on the center of the pitcher’s mound of the softball field to the side of the goal. The always-dangerous Freer blistered a high strike headed for pay dirt with Boyke stretching just high enough to bat the ball with both hands over the bar.
Boyke helped the Rockets dodge another bullet with under 10 minutes to play stopping another Freer missile, this time at point blank range after the Stamford ace had cracked Roxbury’s defensive wall.
Cronk, Devin Fox, and Sprague all scored as the Rockets finished their impressive soccer run beating Jefferson, 3-1, on Thursday. Roxbury will now begin preparations for their next elimination showdown in the Section IV playoffs which begin on October 22.
With much of the local soccer attention turned toward Margaretville’s undefeated boys’ squad, the boys and girls of SK making regular season Delaware League title runs, and the Roxbury girls’ late season surge to reach the postseason, Coach Tom Faraci’s Roxbury guys have been flying just below the radar.
The Rockets dropped their final game of the regular season, a disappointing 1-0 loss at Stamford, but Roxbury finished at 8-7 and qualifies for Section IV postseason play.
Everyone knows the postseason is about getting hot at the right time, and Faraci’s Rockets have over a week to prepare to try and do just that. The Rockets get good firepower up front from Kris Walcutt and Charlie Dietrich, some senior leadership in the midfield from Josh Riley and Joe McFee, all-around hustle play from Chris Clark, an improved defensive line headed by senior Issac Cline and some gutsy goalie play from Jacob Davies.
Roxbury continues to work as the club awaits the seeding meeting to learn which team it will face in the opening round of the Section IV playoffs.