Top-seeded Tigers take down Cardinals to win sectional final
By BOB ETTINGER
Howland boys soccer coach Brian Stiles knew the Tigers needed to figure a way to get the ball behind a number of defenders if they were to open Division II sectional tournament play with a victory.
His troops figured out the equation early and toppled Cardinal Mooney, 5-0, in a sectional championship at Jennings P. Francis Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“One of the things we knew going in, Mooney is able to put a lot of people behind the ball,” Stiles said. “We work on getting the down the wings and putting it inside. We had enough time to prepare for it.”
The top-seeded Tigers (14-2-1) will host fifth-seeded Poland — a 1-0 winner over fourth-seeded Hubbard and Poland — in a district semifinal at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
“I haven’t seen a lot of the teams in the area,” Stiles said. “At this point, there just isn’t a lot of time in between games to put tactical stuff together. What we do is what we’ll get better at.”
Howland struck for its first goal in just the third minute of the first half as Andrew Lightner knocked home a deflection off the crossbar after a Manny Perez corner kick. In the seventh minute, the Mooney keeper tried to clear the ball through a crowd and Gabe Altawil, charging hard through the center of the box, deflected back into the net for the 2-0 Tigers’ advantage.
“I think we came out a little nervous,” Mooney coach Thomas Beck said. “It showed. Those first two goals weren’t anything special. It was more what we did. They have good athletes and they put it in the back of the net. We needed to come out and deal with the nerves better in this atmosphere. Kudos to Howland. I think they’ll be able to make a strong push far into the tournament.”
Perez sent a pass down the sideline to Lightner in the corner who crossed it in to Francis Cesta, who knocked it into the net put Howland ahead, 3-0, in the 12th minute.
“This group has been together quite a while,” Stiles said. “We have five three-year lettermen and two four-year lettermen. A lot of the case in that game was we were the older team and getting to the ball. We played a pretty difficult schedule and it prepared us for the playoffs. Twelve of our 16 games were against Division I teams. We’re used to the speed and the physicality of the game.
“We spend a lot of practice time passing and trapping. At this phase, it comes down to fundamentals.”
In the ninth minute of the second half, Cesta returned the favor and crossed the ball inside to Lightner for the Tigers’ fourth tally of the afternoon.
“We just needed to play the outside to the wings and I was able to use my speed to get around it,” Lightner said. “My teammates got the ball to the outside and I was able to score. We try to get the ball to the outside as much as possible. We want to take the ball as far in to the touch line as we can and make a good cross.”
Perez rebounded a shot off the keeper and tapped it across the goal line for Howland’s final score in the 18th minute of the second half.
“We’re a very unselfish team,” Lightner said. “We do what we need to do to win. If it means someone making an assist, so be it.”
Michael Schwartz had one save as Howland shut out the Cardinals (5-9-4).