By Nick Curcuru
---- — ROCKPORT — Last night’s Division 4 North quarterfinal boys soccer tilt between No. 2 Rockport and No. 7 Hamilton-Wenham was truly a game of inches.
For 70 minutes, the Vikings and Generals battled tooth and nail for every inch of space on the Rockport High School field and the game came down to a pair of plays in the final 10 minutes of play.
One minute after the hosts rang a shot off the crossbar, Hamilton-Wenham’s Alex Berthoud found the back of the net to give the Generals a 1-0 victory in a Division 4 North quarterfinal contest.
Berthoud put his shot just inches inside the far right post for the seventh-seeded Generals (11-5-4) off of a pass from Niko Surpa, a recent junior varsity callup.
“It was epic out there,” said Generals head coach Matt Gauron, whose team will move on to the semifinals tomorrow against St. Mary’s of Lynn. “It was an absolute battle, Rockport did an unbelievable job.”
Rockport head coach Dave Curley, whose team finished 13-5-2 and will not be playing in the sectional semifinals for the first time in five years, praised the play of both teams.
“I thought it was a very evenly played game, just a well-played high school soccer match,” Curley said. “We didn’t get the result that we wanted, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.”
It was Rockport that controlled play over the first 40 minutes, keeping the Generals at bay while generating a few nice scoring chances of their own. In the first 10 minutes the Vikings put a shot just over the crossbar from inside the box. Later in the first half, senior captain Shaun Aspesi got some room and put a shot on goal, but Generals goalie Henry Eagar aggressively came out of his net to cut off the angle and make a huge save.
Hamilton-Wenham also did a great job on the defensive side of the ball clogging up passing lanes and crowding the man with the ball, and as a result there were few quality scoring chances.
“In the first half I thought we did a little more with the ball possession-wise,” Curley said. “But we didn’t have many clear shots. We were just one pass away on a few occasions. Give credit where credit is due; (Hamilton-Wenham) played great on the back end.”
The Generals reversed the flow of play in the second half as they controlled the ball over the majority of the last 40 minutes of play. But like Hamilton-Wenham in the first half, the Rockport defense was equally as stingy in the second.
Hamilton-Wenham nearly got on the board in the 50th minute after putting a nice shot on goal off of a corner kick, but Vikings goalie Jacob Rostowski made a great diving stop to keep the game scoreless.
The Generals continued to pressure for the next 20 minutes, causing Curley to use a timeout. Whatever was said during the break seemed to work for the Vikings as they came out and started to take back the momentum, hitting the crossbar with 10 minutes to go.
One minute later, Hamilton-Wenham came down and Berthoud notched what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Rockport stepped up its offensive pressure from there and had a free kick opportunity from just outside the box with under four minutes to play, but the Generals defense would not relent.
“We definitely went defensive after the goal out of respect for Rockport,” Gauron said. “They were playing so well, we had to bring extra guys back to help shore it up. I thought in the first half they carried the play for the most part, but something happened for us in the second half.”’