Top-seeded Hopkins ousts Panthers, 3-0
HADLEY — Pioneer Valley Regional School head coach Ben Bricker has some fond memories of the Hopkins Academy soccer field. Unfortunately, he could not add to them Monday.
Bricker and the eighth-seeded Panthers traveled to Hopkins and suffered a 3-0 loss to the No. 1 seed Golden Hawks in the quarterfinals of the Western Massachusetts Division IV Boys’ Soccer Tournament, ending a season that saw Pioneer flourish under the 19-year-old, second-year coach.
Bricker, who just two seasons ago was a starter for Hopkins’ longtime rival Smith Academy, was disappointed, not devastated.
“They played great teams all year and are the top seed for a reason. At the end of the day, they finished, and we didn’t,” he said.
The Panthers (11-4-3) came out strong in the beginning, controlling play for most of the first 20 minutes, and nearly took an early lead twice but could not put the ball past Hopkins standout goaltender Ben Pitta.
Hopkins, which had a first-round tourney bye, appeared to be a little flat coming out of the gate. It was midway through the first half before it began to look like the powerhouse that racked up a 16-1-1 regular-season record.
“We hadn’t played a competitive soccer game in 13 days,” said Golden Hawks head coach Justin Campbell. “We knew they were going to come out strong and were riding momentum from a big Friday-night win.”
Hopkins broke the scoreless tie at the 21:19 mark, when Brennan Mitrolka put a pass right on the foot of Tyler Szymkowicz, who circled a defender and ended up alone with the ball in front of the net. Panther goalie Josh Hill didn’t have a chance as Szymkowicz rocketed the ball into the upper corner, to Hill’s left, for a 1-0 lead.
“I told the guys that it was no big deal, we just needed to get one before the half,” said Bricker.
Alas, it was not to be.
From that point on, Pioneer seemed to lose the rhythm it had established, spending the remainder of the half on its heels, fending off the re-energized Hopkins offensive attack.
As it turned out, the Panthers were fortunate to go into the break down just one. The Hawks had two golden chances to add to their lead, the first coming with about four minutes remaining when the ball trickled just outside the right post with Hill on the ground helpless.
The second was with a minute to go and the Hawks driving furiously right in front of the net. For a split second the ball was lying right in front of the open left side of the goal, but Hopkins could not get a foot on it and the Panthers temporarily escaped further damage.
In the second half, they were not so lucky. Hopkins was dominant from the start and kept the pressure on throughout. The Hawks outshot the Panthers 10-2 in the period and took a 2-0 lead at the 6:17 mark when Hill came out of net to try to corral the ball, but instead it bounced off him to a waitng Szymkowicz, who poked it in to the wide open net.
Hopkins sealed the deal at 16:54, when Patrick Knightly took a pass from Paul Delamy and put it just inside the post past Hill, who was completely outstretched and diving to his right.
The closest the Panthers came to scoring was about 25 minutes in, when Brian Aja blasted 30-yard shot that clanged off the crossbar over a leaping Pitta.
As disappointing a day as it was for the Panthers, Bricker found the proper perspective.
“We had opportunities but just couldn’t make them count.” said Bricker. “Justin always puts out incredible soccer teams, and they certainly earned their win today.”