WMass D-IV soccer: Zach Suffish scores in OT, Lenox beats Pioneer
HOLYOKE — In a team dotted with accomplished and experienced seniors, of course it was a sophomore who scored the winning goal.
In the first overtime of Wednesday's Western Massachusetts Division IV semifinal, Lenox's Zach Suffish corralled a ball that was heading out of the box. With enough time to look around, Suffish took in his surroundings, faked a move to the right, cut back to his left and unleashed a beautiful, curving shot into the Pioneer net that sends the No. 2 Millionaires back to the Western Mass. title game for the third consecutive year after a 1-0 win.
"The ball just came to me," Suffish said. "I took a step in and saw a guy, so I cut back and saw an open shot so I took it. As the ball went in, the mind went crazy. It's great. I'm super happy."
Suffish's winner ended a night that had the Millionaires pounding the Panthers' goal to no avail. After hammering away with shot after shot that either bounced off a Pioneer defender or into the hands of Ryan Underwood (seven saves), Suffish took the time to curl up his shot perfectly.
As coach Matt Cote called it, Suffish unleashed an "80-percent shot."
"I'm not sure that's the exact shot I was expecting to happen, but he was calm and cool under pressure," the first-year coach said. "We talk about it all the time, it was an 80-percent shot. If you hit it 100 percent, it goes over the goal every time. You hit it at 80 percent with a little bend on it, it goes right in the corner."
It seemed like just about everyone for Lenox got a shot off at some point. Mike Abdalla hit the post twice in the first half. Nic Baruch forced Underwood into a kick save early on in the contest. And before the first half let up, Harrison Keator had a shot from an acute angle saved by Underwood.
In the second half, Ian Laurin sprung Abdalla free again, only for Underwood to make another save. Then, late in the second half and in overtime, Suffish had two chances from point-blank range snuffed out. Both came on set pieces, and both required some incredible goalkeeping.
For a time, it seemed as though Underwood was going to drag his team kicking-and-screaming into penalty kicks.
"That 'keeper was fantastic tonight," Cote said. "He made save after save, after save. Tough one after tough one. .. There was the one Zach backheeled, and somehow he came up with the ball. I was raising my hands because I thought it was a goal, and he had it in his breadbasket."
After the first of Underwood's saves on Suffish, the worst case scenario almost played out for the Millionaires. On a clearance up the field, the ball fell to the feet of Jordan Loughman. Loughman took time to collect himself on the left, and sent a low shot just wide of Matt Tibbetts' post.
With tensions starting to rise in the Lenox camp as the second half wore on, Cote took a timeout with 5:20 left in regulation. Cote had made a formation change at halftime — sliding Zi Santos, who started in defense, up to the wing to push more bodies forward. The move resulted in more chances, but during the timeout, Cote wanted his team to focus not on energy, but on something else.
"During my last timeout, all I tried to get them to do was close their eyes, breathe and calm down. Because, in my opinion, we didn't need energy — we needed unity."
Suffish brought that unity front-and-center with the winner. The celebration on the Lenox sideline involved everyone, and from face to face, it was apparent what the sophomore's contribution meant.
"It's crazy, these seniors, it's their last season," Suffish said. "They've brought it that far so many times and they really deserve it, so I'm happy I can take it there for them, too."
Lenox will play Drury in the Western Mass. final, after the Blue Devils shocked No. 1 Hopkins, 2-1. Lenox beat Drury 7-1 during the regular season.
"I never like to see a Berkshire County team in the finals," Cote said, "because you know who they are and what they can do. Drury clearly has what it takes to win big games. We won big at their place, but that clearly doesn't mean anything."
A time, date and location for that game were not available at press deadline.
Pioneer 0 0 0 0
Lenox 0 0 1 — 1
L - Zach Suffish (unassisted), 84:32.
Saves - P: Ryan Underwood 7. L: Matt Tibbetts 1.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @GSmith_Eagle and 413-496-6254.