By Matt Jenkins
---- — LYNN — For a team that didn’t even qualify for the postseason a year ago and that has been relying on a converted forward in goal, the Hamilton-Wenham boys soccer team is in pretty good shape.
The Generals broke open their Division 4 North semifinal game against St. Mary’s of Lynn last night with a pair of second half goals and finished off the Spartans, 3-1, to advance to the sectional final.
Hamilton-Wenham (12-4-5) will battle Georgetown Sunday afternoon (1:15 p.m.) back at Manning Field with the North title at stake.
“This is a great turnaround for us,” Hamilton-Wenham coach Matt Gauron said. “We fell short (of the tournament) last year and here we are, back again and in the finals. This is great.”
Hamilton-Wenham got goals from Aidan Prior, Thomas Dowd and Bobby Bertagna to stop the Spartans on their home turf.
St. Mary’s held possession for the majority of the first half, but couldn’t produce a goal.
Prior jumped on a rebound with just under 18 minutes to go and blasted it into the net for a 1-0 H-W advantage.
Hamilton-Wenham keeper Henry Eagar stood out between the pipes, smothering anything that came his way in the first half. He took away a sure St. Mary’s goal with a pair of saves on a quick flurry, capped by a tremendous diving stop on a shot headed to the lower right-hand corner of the net.
“That was outstanding. I thought that was in and (Eagar) came up big. He’s come up big all year long. This is his first time being in net; he had never played there before and he became an all-star for us. He’s just a good athlete,” Gauron said.
“He was a forward last year, and we hemmed and hawed about it. We wanted to try him in net and he was all for it ... and what a show he’s put on. He looks like he’s been playing there all his life.”
While Eagar was great in net for Hamilton-Wenham, St. Mary’s was battling through some goalie difficulties. The Spartans’ standout starter, Helio Neto of Salem, broke his hand a few games ago and couldn’t play last night. After playing two games with the injury, Neto was set to have surgery on the hand today.
St. Mary’s was forced to turn to its leading goal scorer, freshman Josh Bertrand, to make the saves last night. He played the first half, then moved back to forward in the second half when junior defender Erik Whitcomb stepped in goal.
“It’s hard without your starting goalkeeper in net,” St. Mary’s (12-5-4) coach Mike D’Agostino said. “We definitely controlled the pace of the game in the middle. They got a nice goal in the first half and we came back.”
Junior midfielder Noah Camelo pulled the Spartans even early in the second half with a 30-yard smash that Eagar couldn’t get to. But Hamilton-Wenham came through with a quick answer when Russell Grigorian sent a ball out front that Dowd finished about eight minutes afterwards.
“It was just awesome. They had that left-footed blast to tie it up and it kind of took the wind out of our sails, but we came back with an answer of our own,” Gauron said. “You prepare as best you can, but you never know what’s going to happen in these games with the season on the line.”
A Hamilton-Wenham shot hit the crossbar and Whitcomb blocked the rebound before Bertagna delivered the Generals’ third goal.
Now, the Generals will play for the North title against a Georgetown team that they tied, 1-1, earlier this season.
“They’re a strong team, an older group,” Gauron said. “They’re a good squad, they play hard, they’re physical and anything can happen.”