CRANSTON — After a scoreless initial half, Lincoln High head coach John D'Aloisio assembled his troops in front of a cage at Cranston Stadium on Wednesday night and informed them he wanted to employ a simplistic switch.
Because Providence Country Day's defense would sag around the net whenever the Lions possessed the ball – that in an effort to squelch any up-close attempts at Knights' sophomore keeper Justin LaRose, he wanted one of his forwards to hold back.
“We pushed a forward up very high because they kept collapsing their defense; we placed him out by their last defender, and that gave us the option to play a longer ball in if we needed to,” he stated.
The minor change may have worked just once, but it was more than enough for top-seeded Lincoln to dispatch fourth-ranked PCD, 1-0, in a R.I. Division II Tournament semifinal.
Senior Colby Alves played the role of hero in this masterfully-played tilt. With 27:03 remaining in the final stanza, he knocked down a feed from senior tri-captain Ryan Labrie, hustled down the left hashmarks and – draped by a defending Knight – slipped a right-footed try into a wide-open net.
That caused the Lincoln sideline to erupt with emotion.
“Ryan sent a pass in front the middle, and it went over the top (of a couple of backs),” Alves noted shyly, seemingly stunned at having flicked home the clincher. “I just chased it down and tapped it in.”
When asked his first reaction to scoring, he simply said, “I felt it took a lot of weight off our shoulders, especially after the other (Saturday) night.”
Alves was referring to a wild, emotional and – yes, scary – 2-1 shootout triumph over East Greenwich at his Chet Nichols Memorial Field home.
“This feels so good,” he sighed.
Here's why: With the victory, the Lions not only improved to 13-4-4 overall, but clinched a berth in the championship game. It will face the winner of second-seeded Coventry and No. 3 Toll Gate for the elusive D-II crown at 2 p.m., Saturday at the Rhode Island College soccer complex.
“This is extremely small for a high school field,” Coach D'Aloisio explained. “It's only 100 yards by 55, and PCD was trying to spread it out. We like to pass and play a possession game, but we really couldn't do that given it's size. There wasn't a lot of room, so that (change at intermission) opened it up for us.
“The thing is, we could play a longer ball from (our defensive territory); we'd have that forward get a long pass, hold it, and that allowed us to bring more players up the field and get open,” he continued. “It seemed to work.”
And then some. Lincoln dominated time of possession in that second half, outshooting the Knights by a 10-4 count over the final 40 minutes.
That, however, didn't mean PCD didn't have its own chances to knot it to try and force overtime.
With 12:02 left in regulation, junior forward Harrison Igoe managed a high throw-in from deep down the right sideline. It appeared to bounce off a defender, and classmate John Tortolani somehow fed it to senior co-captain Thomas Horvat.
The midfielder/forward saw the ball at his foot as he stationed himself by the left post; he ripped a shot at Lions' junior goalie Jack Bacon, who dove to his right and deflected it from harm.
After that, D'Aloisio's crew dominated most of the final 11-plus minutes.
To be fair, the Knights controlled play for most of the opening session; in fact, it outshot the Lions, 5-4.
Lincoln started fast, taking two corner kicks in the first 50 seconds. A mere 3:25 later, PCD gained its first corner. Igoe delivered a line drive from the left to Horvat, who leaped over a pair of defenders and tried to head it into the cage.
Bacon, however, snagged the save.
With 11:54 left before intermission, sophomore Gabriel Zelaya-Rincon gave the Knights another solid chance when he took a pass from the left and sent a low-lining curler at Bacon, who again responded with a stop.
Perhaps PCD's finest attempt came with 4:10 remaining; that's when Igoe's throw-in from deep down the left sideline rolled around the crease, and – through the scramble – Horvat whacked a shot just outside the left post.
That left both contingents in a scoreless tie at the half.
Less than 10 minutes into the final stanza, Horvat corralled a deep through pass perhaps 10 yards out from Bacon and slipped it toward junior Nick Pacia, who was open in front of the goal. His right-footer, though, sailed just over the crossbar.
Exactly two minutes later, Lincoln senior tri-captain Mateuz (pronounced ma-TOWSH) Puzanowski heaved a left-side throw-in toward junior David Jessey. He, with his back to the netting, headed it back to LaRose, who snagged the save.
Only 1:52 after, Alves delivered the game-winner, and pretty much controlled it until the final whistles.
To his credit, LaRose finished with 13 stops, while Bacon recorded eight.
“Anytime you take that kind of pressure so close to the net and you don't allow a goal, that's special,” D'Aloisio said of Bacon. “He had to play right on top of their forwards when they were threatening, and he had to handle a ton of throw-ins.”
The reasons behind Bacon's shutout, in part: The stellar kickouts and ball control of senior tri-captains Labrie and Alex D'Aloisio; Puzanowski; and fellow seniors Paul Roque and John Ariza.
“I will say that (Horvat), with his leaping ability, was virtually unstoppable,” he said. “He's a great player.”
When told his Lions had stopped him, he just smiled, “This is a terrific win, but we have one more.”