It wasn’t a normal high school boys soccer season by any means; that’s been plainly evident. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic there were fewer games, drastic (somewhat) rule changes, unexpected extended layoffs from competition and, of course, there will be no state tournament.
But make no mistake: what the Masconomet boys soccer team did in its first fall campaign in the Northeastern Conference is praiseworthy no matter the circumstances. Following Tuesday evening’s thrilling 1-0 victory over Marblehead, the Chieftains concluded their season with an unbeaten 8-0-1 record.
At times they were dominant, such as in an 8-1 win over Swampscott, a 6-1 triumph over Gloucester and a 6-1 defeat of Peabody. At other times, like on Tuesday night, they really had to rev up the intensity and focus to finish the job.
Was it your typical 20-plus game undefeated run capped off by a state championship? No. But in a season like this, it was arguably just as impressive.
“We’ve worked all season to have an undefeated season, and it feels great to get it done,” said Masconomet senior captain Spencer Butterworth. He scored the game-winning goal Tuesday in the waning minutes of regulation off a nice cross from teammate James Toleos.
“We wanted to send a good message to the NEC, and I think we did that. It’s too bad (they didn’t get to compete for a state title), but I’m just happy we got a chance to play. We treated (Tuesday) like a playoff game and finally got some fans out here, too, because this was like the Division 2 state championship for us.”
In streaking to their 8-0-1 record, the Chieftains topped Salem, Swampscott, Gloucester, Peabody, Saugus, Danvers, Beverly and Marblehead. The only blemish was a competitive 1-1 draw at Beverly, a team they’d go on to beat 6-3 the second time around.
In total, Masco outscored its opponents by a ridiculous 44-7 margin.
Tuesday’s clash against the Magicians’ might have been their toughest test of the year. The two teams battled to a scoreless tie for over 75 minutes, trading chances and each coming up with a variety of key stops to keep the game in question. It was anyone’s game to win; Masco just wound up capitalizing on a golden opportunity late to seal it.
The shot was made possible off a corner kick, and Toleos sent a perfectly placed cross into the box that Butterworth calmly struck home. The shot sent the Chieftains into an exuberant frenzy — but it wasn’t over just yet.
On its ensuing possession, Marblehead got the ball back into scoring position and drew a whistle that resulted in a free kick from less than 20 yards out. It appeared as if the Chieftains may have gotten a bit close to one another in forming a wall in front of the net — a no-no in the COVID-19 era — but the play proceeded on and the Magicians’ couldn’t punch it in.
“That was a golden opportunity for us, just like Masco took advantage of their golden opportunity. We could’ve had that chance, too, and it was taken away,” said Marblehead head coach Elmer Magana. “It’s frustrating; I could use other adjectives to describe it, but I won’t. I’m extremely sad for my guys but obviously I am extremely proud of the guys, too. They showed a lot of heart, a lot of effort and they went toe to toe with the No. 2 team in the state (according to MaxPreps).”
Despite coming out on the losing end, Marblehead did play a tremendous game. After watching the Chieftains seize possession early and often in the first half, the hosts battled back to create a number of their own scoring opportunities. Defensively, they were all over the field, particularly Schuyler Schmitt, who had a number of key deflections, clears, recoveries and lockdown individual defense. Gavin Shevory was excellent in net to boot, making numerous saves and smart decisions from his post all night.
“The defense played out of their minds, especially Schuyler Schmitt,” said Magana. “He was phenomenal, fantastic, like Superman. He totally played like an MVP, and the other defenders, too. Everybody showed a lot of heart, that’s why losing like this is hurtful. But I’m very proud of my defense.”
For Masco, keeper Kevin Pelletier more than did his part between the posts, while guys like Brennen Johnston, Sam Brockelman and Nate Collins, among others, turned in extremely strong performances.
It was the perfect ending to a tremendous debut season in the NEC.
“Going undefeated, we’ll take it,” said a modest Masconomet head coach Jared Scarpaci. “It was a good season, a competitive one and it was fun — especially under the circumstances for what it was. I was really happy and we’re looking forward to next year.”
Speaking of Butterworth, the fourth-year talent has plenty more soccer to look forward to in his near future. He recently committed to Endicott College to continue his career and couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve always wanted to play D-3 college soccer and my coach is really good friends with the Endicott coach (Joe Calabrese),” said Butterworth. “It seems like the perfect fit both academically and soccer-wise, and it’s close to home so I don’t have to travel far, which makes it easier.”
Butterworth said he has yet to meet any of the Gulls’ players due to the pandemic, but has met with Calabrese and is eager to get things started. He plans on training throughout the offseason while also competing for Aztec at the club soccer level.
“First of all, he’s an incredible kid,” Scarpaci said of Butterworth. “He sort of has that shy leadership ability where he’s not super vocal, but when he does speak everybody listens. He’s always played center mid and we’ve always had older guys in front of him that have been through the program, so he didn’t get much playing time as a sophomore. But he learned, watched and listened and was ready to step in. During his junior and seniors years, he played pretty much every minute and was dominant in them. I think he’s going to be a great fit at Endicott.”
The Gulls went 12-6-2 last fall, losing in the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament championship in double overtime to Salve Regina.
Butterworth plans to study business upon his arrival to the beautiful Beverly campus.
Congratulations to Bishop Fenwick. The Crusaders topped Bishop Stang Tuesday in the opening round of the Catholic Central League playoffs, winning 4-3 on PKs.
The team’s leading scorer, Jack Andrews, scored in the 19th minute of regulation off a beautiful feed from Ryan Noci before Stang tied it up in the 79th minute to set the stage for extended soccer. Scoring in the decisive penalty kick session was Ryan Morgenstern, Jack Andrews, Liam Foley (the team’s stout goalie), and Aidan Dwyer.
Head coach Tony Enos also highlighted the play of Keiron Murray, Tyler Mullen, Noci, Dwyer and Sean Campbell. But once again, the standout of the game was Foley, who made a number of key saves, including two in the PKs.
“Foley was incredible,” said Enos. “Not only did he have eight saves and two PK saves, but he commanded the back line and kept things very organized. Foley is full package.”
Fenwick moves on to face Bishop Feehan in the CCL semifinals Thursday in Attleboro.
Tough end of the season for St. John’s Prep. The previously unbeaten Eagles fell to rival St. John’s Shrewsbury, 2-1, in their Catholic Conference tourney opener Monday, a contest that was also decided on penalty kicks. Still, it was another remarkable campaign for head coach Dave Crowell and Co., who wrapped up the year with a 7-1-3 record.
Corner Kicks is a weekly high school boys soccer column that appears in the paper every Wednesday during the fall season. Contact staff writer Nick Giannino at NGiannino@Salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.