BEVERLY — An extended layoff can either serve as an advantage or, in many cases, prove detrimental to a team’s continued success.
In some shape or form the latter was the case for the Beverly High boys soccer team, which took the pitch on Wednesday for the first time in over a week with hopes of holding down the fort and advancing in Division 2 North competition.
Hosting Charlestown — who snuck into the postseason as the last seed (No. 19) with a 7-7-2 record — the Panthers understandably battled periods of rust and never quite looked like themselves throughout the contest. Still, head coach Edgar de Leon’s group possessed just enough firepower to get the job done, scoring two first half goals before holding on for a hard fought 2-1 triumph.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win and I think the big thing was us not playing in 10 days,” said de Leon, his team now 12-3-4. “We hadn’t played since October 28 against Salem, and the speed of (a real) game is just different than practice. Our speed of play just showed today that it wasn’t where it needs to be and we know the next round is going to be tougher.”
Whether they were at their best or not, the Panthers were certainly given a tremendous game from the underdog Townies.
Despite a visible edge in possession early on, Beverly was unable to capitalize on scoring chances until the midway point of the first half. The Panthers even misfired on a penalty kick in the opening minutes and soon after whiffed on a golden opportunity in close.
However, sophomore Nick Braganca — who was quite possibly the best player on the field for either side in Wednesday’s affair — was finally able to get his team on the board with an impressive boot across the box and into the far post, top shelf area of the net. The goal provided a surge of momentum for the hosts, and no more than four minutes later, Sean Sweeney crossed one into the box and watched as freshman Sam Phillips buried the header to make it 2-0.
Both Braganca and Phillips, two of the more talented underclassmen on Beverly’s roster, turned in consistently strong efforts throughout in the win.
“Nick was under the weather; he’s been sick for the last three days and was still managing the game for us, winning every 50-50 around him and putting the ball on the ground,” de Leon said of Braganca. “He was distributing the ball and sticking to the game plan. Then he had that beautiful goal where he turned on the guy and just put it on the far side netting on the upper corner; that’s a great shot.”
Leading by a pair of goals and seemingly dominating possession throughout the first half, it appeared as if the Panthers had finally shaken off the rust and would streak to the finish line. Instead, Charlestown — which used just one sub off a short bench the entire game — continued to grind and make things difficult on the hosts.
Then, with about five minutes to play before the break, Juan Alzate sent a textbook cross in from the left side to Jaison Gil Martinez who headed it home to cut the lead in half. The Townies kept the pressure up after recess, but Beverly was able to hold strong down the stretch to preserve the win.
Both squads had numerous chances at goal in the second half, as Phillips, Braganca, Danny Buzi and Jackson Erwin all helped generate offense in crunch time.
While Beverly passed its first test, it’ll have its hands full again on Saturday when No. 6 Winchester (11-3-5) — a 4-0 winner over Boston Latin Academy on Wednesday — comes to town. That game is slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
“It’s going to be trying. The next team we play is certainly not going to be as forgiving as this game was and we have to limit the mistakes,” said de Leon.
“We’ll have three more days of practice and go from there.”