By Gianna Addario
---- — The Masconomet boys soccer team started its 2013 season with three goals in mind: win the Cape Ann League Large championship, keep its opponents, on average, under a goal a game; and the ultimate prize — take home a state title.
Most teams would be satisfied with two out of the three, but not the Chieftains.
Instead, after crossing the first two items off their list, their main focus has become tonight’s Division 2 state championship game at Manning Field in Lynn (7:15 p.m.) against upstart Walpole.
“We’re one game away from achieving all three goals and we know that it’s going to be 80 minutes of war (tonight), but we’re ready,” said the Cape Ann League’s Player of the Year, senior captain Adam Grammer.
Tonight’s game marks the third state finals game the Chieftains have been part of in the past six years. They lost to Mt. Greylock 3-2 in 2008 and most recently fell to Ludlow, 2-1, in 2011’s Division 1 title tilt. Masconomet won its only state championship in 1996.
Masconomet’s season has been nothing short of a fairy tale over the past two-and-a-half months. At 22-1-1 overall, the Chieftains’ only loss came to Division 1 powerhouse Somerville; they also managed a 1-1 tie with St. John’s Prep in the season opener.
Since that loss to Somerville in late September, Masco is riding a 17-game win streak and hasn’t given up more than two goals in a single game. It’s also worth noting that their North quarterfinals win over Danvers last week marked their 17th shutout of the year.
While the South champion Rebels (12-7-2) don’t boast the same extravagant record as Masconomet, they’ll no doubt be a formidable foe tonight. Walpole hasn’t allowed a single goal in four tournament games and topped second-seeded (and previously unbeaten) Oliver Ames for the South title Monday.
“We had someone watch their (South) final against Oliver Ames and they are a fine team,” said Masco head coach Dave Mitchell. “They’re well coached and execute well. They play in one of the toughest conferences (Bay State) in the state, so a team coming out of that conference is seasoned for the challenges of the tournament.
“We had a great day of practice (yesterday) and we’re ready and looking forward to the challenge.”
In his third season as head coach, Mitchell has earned his second trip back to the state title game.
Grammer’s MVP status has opponents marking his every move, but the Chieftains remain one of the most complete teams in the tournament. They have weapons at every position on the field and don’t rely on one single player.
Fellow senior captain Jeff Panella played limited minutes in the opening rounds of the tournament due to an injury, but has seen his time increase the last two games and earned himself an assist in Monday’s North final win over arch rival North Andover.
P.J. Criscione and Edison Forbes have combined for six goals this postseason and are fearless in front of the net, and Kevin Gilbert has been stellar on defense.
“I think the best part of our team is just the chemistry we have,” said Grammer. “All of us get along on the field and off the field; we’re all good friends who hang out. These boys are my second family.
“A goal I personally had at the beginning of the year was to win my last game as a senior. The only way to do that was to win a state title.”