Photo Gallery | Pittsfield, Minnechaug play to 2-2 draw
PITTSFIELD >> The point was so important for Pittsfield, it almost felt like two.
Down two goals late in the second half, the Generals never backed down as they clawed all the way back for a 2-2 draw against Minnechaug on Friday at Kirvin Park.
Pittsfield (7-1-3) got goals from Jackson Rich and Evan Dempsey inside the last 17 minutes to battle back for the point. And while both sides would have been happier with two points and a win, the Generals felt mightily content leaving the field with a tie.
"It was beautiful, honestly," Dempsey said of the tie. "I did not expect that second goal to go in. It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill — but more luck, honestly."
The way the game ended was far from how it started, however.
Inside the first minute, the Falcons got on the board when Steven Diefenderfer latched onto a poor clearance from the Pittsfield defense. With the ball inside the 18-yard box, Diefenderfer had his first shot blocked, but the ball caromed back to him for the easy finish.
Just under six minutes later, Minnechaug doubled its advantage when a long clearance forward from Daniel Nygren fell to the feet of Michael Alexander. With a defender on his shoulder, Alexander used a burst of speed to get free, then fired a shot across the face of Jon Bile's goal and into the netting.
Minnechaug coach John O'Keefe was pleased with the individual effort on both goals, but lamented his team's response to getting the cushion.
"Obviously disappointed in the result," O'Keefe said, "the two goals were solely on two individual efforts that got us that early lead.
"But we didn't come through as a team, we didn't maintain possession well, and we didn't handle their pressure. We just kept knocking the ball away, and it seemed like we chased the ball out of bounds a lot today."
The Pittsfield comeback was slow, but steady. From the moment Minnechaug's second goal went in, the Generals started taking control of the game. Before the first half was up, Grady Pedersen flashed a cross across the face of goal that no one could get to, and Evan Dempsey got off a shot in the box that went just wide of the post.
At halftime, Pittsfield coach Andrew Antil was animated in his team talk.
"I told them at halftime that we were working the ball well," Antil said. "When we are on the ball we are doing really well and we are getting the ball forward. We were getting chances, we had one go across the face of net. It wasn't like we were backed in our zone the whole time.
"I said that we had to be smarter off the ball, we need to mark up where we need to, be aware and we just need to wake up."
Rich nearly got his team's first goal with just under 24 minutes to go when a Pedersen cross was headed to goalie David Walbridge. After a lot of puffing, the Minnechaug house finally started blowing down with 16:26 left.
Dempsey started the move when he took a pass on the right wing and kept it going. Freeing up enough space for a cross, Dempsey sent the ball on the deck to the feet of Rich, and Rich opened up his right boot and slammed the ball into the upper right corner to make it 2-1.
Eleven minutes later, and Dempsey went from provider to finisher. In a play that was equal parts brilliant and audacious, Dempsey took possession of a pass from Christian Mendez on the right. Nearing the end line, Dempsey took a touch that drew out Walbridge and forced the Minnechaug goalie to the turf. With the ball still inching closer to the end line, Dempsey put a flick on the ball that was part cross, part shot and the ball somehow managed to sneak in at the far post.
"They are all my friends from my club team, Western United, and I know Dave is going to come out in that situation," Dempsey said, referencing his familiarity with Minnechaug through club soccer, "so I just took a touch by him, leaned back and tried to put a cross in and it ended up going in."
When the final whistle went, it was as if Pittsfield had managed to come all the way back for the win based on the reaction from both sides.
"I was happy with the individual efforts that put those goals on the board," O'Keefe said. "I was more concerned with our team play. We just didn't have it today."
Antil, asked how the win might shape up the tournament seedings in a month's time, deflected talk of the 'what if' and instead focused on the result from Friday.
"This was absolutely huge because it showed that not only can we hang with this team, but we can battle back and we can, I think with 10 more minutes in the second half, who knows what would have happened?" he said.
While Bile had to fetch the ball out of his net twice, the Pittsfield senior did manage seven saves in the game, including a couple of big ones in the second half that kept Minnechaug from pulling away. Walbridge also finished with seven stops.
Pittsfield is off until Friday, when the team welcomes Mount Greylock in a battle of two of the top teams in the Berkshire North.
M — Steven Diefenderfer (unassisted), 0:49. M — Michael Alexander (Daniel Nygren), 6:32.
P — Jackson Rich (Evan Dempsey), 63:34. P — Dempsey (Christian Mendez), 74:30.
Saves — M: David Walbridge 7. P: Jon Bile 7.