The Salem News
---- — A word to the wise for the Masconomet boys soccer team: Don’t underestimate your title game opponent.
Disregard the numbers that say Walpole High, whom the Chieftains will meet at Manning Field in Lynn tomorrow (7:15 p.m.) for the Division 2 state championship, could be easy fodder for the Tri-Town team. Numbers such as the Rebels being the 13th seed in a 15-team South sectional, or the fact that they’ve lost seven games this fall and tied five others.
Focus, instead, on the fact that Walpole has won eight straight contests, haven’t given up a goal the entire postseason (340 minutes, including overtimes) and is looking to deliver the school and their legendary coach, Lee Delaney, their first-ever state soccer championship.
Delaney has been the Rebels’ head coach for 34 years, and this is the first time one of his squads ever reached the sectional final (and subsequently, the state final). Playing out of the rugged Bay State League, they were a Division 1 tournament team for many years until state realignment put them back in Division 2 for 2013.
The Rebels were mired in a season-long funk and, with four games remaining in the regular season, stood at 5-7-2 and out of the playoff picture. But they rallied to win their last four contests, clinching a tournament spot with a comeback win over Bishop Feehan (3-2) in their second-to-last game, and have continued to roll in the postseason.
It started with a 1-0 win at fourth-seeded Greater New Bedford in their playoff opener and carried over into a gutsy quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Nauset, 1-0, on penalty kicks (which Walpole won, 3-1). It continued into the South sectional semifinals with a 2-0 triumph over ninth-seeded Pembroke, and was capped off Monday with another 2-0 victory, this time over unbeaten No. 2 seed Oliver Ames, in the sectional final.
Goaltender Pete Hoegler hasn’t seen a shot fly past him and into the Walpole net since the regular season ended. Along with a solid defense in front of him that includes Nick Randall, Tom Holm, Colin Murray and Matt Brownsword, the Rebels have been absolutely stingy in their own end.
Even when opponents have turned up the heat — such as in the second half of the South final, when Oliver Ames attempted 19 shots — Walpole hasn’t wilted in the face of heavy pressure.
Senior Bobby Ivatts is one of the top offensive threats for Walpole; he has scored in three of his team’s four postseason games, including the second tally in each of his club’s most recent victories. Fellow senior A.J. Chauvin and junior Chris Gallivan (who had the eventual game-winner vs. Oliver Ames less than six minutes in) have also recorded playoff goals.
Robbie Ellis, who has seen time at both left back and forward during the Rebels’ run to the final, as well as Joe Delaney and Rob Rabaioli, are other players who have been vital to their team’s success. So too has the return of Mo Young, who missed most of the season after having knee surgery but buried a shootout goal in the quarterfinal triumph over Nauset.