WMass D-IV soccer: Reece Racette's goal leads No. 4 Drury past top-seeded Hopkins Academy in semifinal
HOLYOKE - Reece Racette wasn't sure exactly how the ball came to him, but in the midst of a tied game in the Western Massachusetts Division IV semifinals, the Drury junior knew what he had to do with it.
Taking control of the ball with his head and knocking it down to his feet, Racette collected himself, held onto the ball as three Hopkins Academy players swarmed him, then opened up just enough room to fire off a low shot that settled nicely into the back of the net. That proved to be the winner, as the No. 4 Blue Devils stunned the No. 1 Golden Hawks 2-1 after rallying from a goal down in the second half.
"It was a 50-50 ball," Racette said. "It was kind of one-on-three. The ball was bouncing, I got a touch on my head and ran through it. I just kept running through the ball and I found myself one-on-one with the goalie and I put it by him. It was huge."
Huge? That's an understatement.
Two years ago, the Blue Devils slumped to a two-win season. Now, they are fighting to become Western Mass. champions.
"This is a huge step up for our program," Racette said. "When I first joined this program, the year before we were a two-win team. We came up and won our division, then we won our division this year. We knew we had the potential to come this far. We had to come out and prove it tonight."
Unfortunately, Racette's goal wasn't the end of the fireworks on John F. Gilligan Field at Holyoke High School.
With 10 seconds left in the contest, Racette was swarmed by multiple Hopkins players. A melee broke out, with the Hopkins bench clearing onto the field while Drury coach John Jacobbe begged his bench to remain on the sidelines. The fight involved everyone on the field, and left Racette with a bloodied lip and several other players with shiners.
"In a little bit, I'll be fine," Jacobbe said after tempers had cooled down some. "I'm just not happy with the end. It was a tough way to finish the game. Hopkins had a great year. We did a great job to battle back. It was a hard-fought victory.
"Words were talked all game. A punch was thrown and it was a melee. I was proud of my guys staying on the bench. Hopkins went on the field. I was frustrated about that. It is what it is at this point. Hopefully, we're done with it."
The scrum resulted in a pair of red cards, one on each side. J.J. Middleton will miss the Western Mass. final for drawing Drury's card, while Hopkins' Nathan Kelly drew the other.
"It's too bad it ended that way," Hopkins coach C.J. Holt said. "You never want to see it get to that. I feel like our boys felt threatened. They reacted in such a way that caused that little skirmish there at the end. I'm glad nobody was seriously hurt and it didn't get any worse. I still don't know what happened."
Still, the brawl at the end couldn't stop the good feelings flowing on the Drury sideline.
How could it, after the comeback the Blue Devils put on once again.
After rallying from a goal down in the quarterfinals to advance to Tuesday's semifinals, Drury again found itself down when Hopkins' Dougie Pierce scored in the first half. Jupiter Fetler put in a cross that no one on either side could get to immediately, and when it broke to Pierce on the far side, he had an easy tap in after 22 minutes, 37 seconds played.
The game went to half with the 1-0 scoreline. But Drury used the break to regroup itself, and the break paid dividends 27 seconds into the second half.
With the ball barely back in play, Max Daugherty found himself in the Hopkins area with Racette and Mitchell Anderson with him. Daugherty's pass missed Racette, but found Anderson, and the senior made no mistakes on his finish.
"I said at halftime our goal is to keep it 1-0 for the first 20 minutes and know we're in the game," Jacobbe said. "My better goal was to be equalized in the first 10. We had chances, we just couldn't complete plays. We completed a play and got the shot off."
Down the other end, Jon Boland slid back into the defense — he typically plays much further up the field — and aided Caleb Besaw, Ryan Dubee and Danny Alvarez in protecting Corbin Rumbolt's goal. The Golden Hawks sent wave after wave of attacks at the Drury backline, but outside of the missed clearance, the unit proved up to the task.
"I'm originally a defender," Boland said. "I love playing back with the boys. Making a lot of stops is just as fun as scoring goals. I love it."
With the game leveled up, both teams tried to take their chances at bagging a winner. But while Hopkins found itself unable to convert, Racette needed just his one shot to find the back of the goal.
Holt lamented his team's inability to shake off the first goal they conceded.
"It's not the first time we've created chances and not finished," Holt said. "We're note used to conceding goals and we conceded one early in the second half. It took us a little while to catch ourselves and get back on track."
Jacobbe was full of praise of Racette and his ability to turn up in the big games.
"Reece is a big-game player," the coach said. "Big games, he comes ready to play. He couldn't find the net the other day against Westfield Tech. He couldn't find the net early today. But he played the ball and beat two defenders and put it away. Reece is a big-time player. It's great to see him finish the game."
In the closing stages, Hopkins continued to push for an equalizer, but the Drury defense was able to hoof the ball away at every opportunity to release the pressure. When they cleared the ball for the final time, that's when the scrum started.
"The ugliness at the end, that's a shame," Jacobbe said. "My guys are no saints in anything. We played hard. Soccer is a game where we compete. There was a lot of talk on the field. I don't know what was said, but I know what I saw. I didn't see my kid throw the first punch. Our kids, although it got a little ugly and scary there, stayed composed the best we could. In a little bit, we can celebrate. Right now, the tension is still high. We want our kids to be safe and proud of the win they got today. The melee should be the back page, the front page should be us upsetting a great team and winning one of the biggest games in our program's history."
Now the Blue Devils will get one more shot at winning their biggest game. The Blue Devils will face a familiar foe in Lenox, after the Millionaires beat Pioneer in overtime, 1-0, in the game that followed.
A date, time and location for that game was not available at press deadline.
Drury 0 2 — 2
Hopkins 1 0 — 1
H - Dougie Pierce (Jupiter Fetler), 22:37.
D - Mitchell Anderson (Max Daugherty), 40:27.
D - Reece Racette (unassisted), 64:43.
Saves - D: Corbin Rumbolt 4. H: Adam Yahman 6.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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