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Falcons continue mastery over Turners Falls, 4-1

HATFIELD — A slow start turned out to be Turners Falls High School’s death knell.

Fourth-seeded Smith Academy used an opportunistic offence to score three goals in the first 20 minutes and went on to beat the fifth-seeded Indians, 4-1, in the quarterfinals of the Western Massachusetts Division III Boys’ Soccer Tournament on Monday at Smith.

“I don’t know ... this is always a hard place to play for us,” said Turners head coach Gregg Bergstrom, who coached at Smith previous to his arrival in Turners a decade ago. “It’s been that way for years.”

Derek McMahon made it tougher for the Indians during the opening 40 minutes, playing a part in all three goals.

In the 10th minute, McMahon received a centering pass from Mat Sulda just inside the penalty area on the left-wing side. He turned and blasted a shot that deflected off an Indians defender as goalkeeper Tenzin Khenrab sprinted to the far post to make the save. However, the spinning ball dipped and struck the inside of the post and ricocheted into the goal off the unsuspecting Khenrab’s leg.

Smith (14-4-2) struck again in the 14th minute. Sulda again served a ball to McMahon inside the penalty area. He settled the ball and rocketed a shot that Khenrab dove and stopped, but it deflected all the way to Harry Kennedy on the right-wing side of the area, and he calmly settled the ball 12 yards from the goal and struck a well-placed shot in the near corner past an Indian defender to make it 2-0.

“You leave guys open and give them time, anybody can bury a goal,” said Bergstrom.

McMahon upped the lead to 3-0 in the 20th minute. Sulda dribbled down the left wing, stopped and booted a pass to McMahon at the top of the penalty area, 18 yards from goal. As McMahon spotted a Turners defender closing in, he faked to his left, drew the ball back to his right and unloaded a rocket to the upper right corner that Khenrab had no chance to stop.

“He has a knack for finding where he needs to be to open himself up to shoot,” said Falcons head coach Jason Duncan of the junior sniper, who scored over 30 goals as a freshman on the junior varsity but didn’t even play soccer last season. “I’m very glad he’s playing this year because that fills a big void on our team. He knows how to score goals, and when he gets the shot he wants he has a cannon, and that’s a nice weapon to have.”

Wyatt Bourbeau closed the gap to two in the 65th minute when he trapped a crossing pass on the far post and booted a point-blank shot past Smith keeper Cam Woodward.

But just as quickly as Turners (14-4-1) seeded to gain the momentum, Smith all but put the game away five minutes a later when Tyler Gay got behind the defense on a breakaway and ripped a shot off the outstretched hands of backup keeper Zack Battistoni and into the far corner.

Smith coach Jason Duncan, a Pioneer Valley Regional School graduate, played on teams that preached defense first. His coaching style is no different, but he was also pleased with the offense’s fast start.

“Getting a lead in the first half makes a big difference,” said Duncan. “Not having to play from behind is definitely a nice thing.”

Woodward finished with three saves for the Falcons, who outshot the Indians 16-5. Khenrab turned aside nine shots in 62 minutes before Bergstrom moved him up front, and Battistoni made two save in his 18 minutes.

Bergstrom was encouraged by what he saw from his younger players and what lies ahead for the program.

“We had a great year,” he said. “We lose five seniors but have a few juniors and like 13 sophomores back, plus we’ve got some good kids coming up too.”

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