BOLTON, Mass. -- In the traditional sense, something had to give.
In Wednesday’s boys’ soccer Division 1 state semifinal between Amherst and Leominster, a mix of history and destiny were in question. The Hurricanes had never been there, running past traditional West power and defending state champion Ludlow to claim their first-ever sectional title. Their opponent, the Blue Devils, rode into the postseason by slimmest of margins with a 5-4-7 record entering action and were a surprise winner of the Central sectional as a No. 12 seed.
While Amherst at times looked the stronger side on the pitch, play remained scoreless through the 56th minute when junior midfielder Brandon Vazquez broke the stalemate and booted the Hurricanes to their first state final with a 1-0 win over the Blue Devils.
Meanwhile, the Amherst back line made it stand up in front of goalkeeper Curtis Barnes (5 saves) while earning the shutout.
“I think after the win against Ludlow, it really boosted our confidence,” Vazquez said. “We came out strong today and we got the job done.”
The Hurricanes (14-2-5) came out firing, but Leominster stayed in the early action behind senior keeper Rondinelle DePaula.
The teams went to the half scoreless, but Amherst continued attacking the Blue Devils’ head-on in the second.
“We didn’t make any formation changes, we just knew we had to play harder and don’t let up, that’s what we did,” Vazquez said.
Amherst finally broke through in the 56th minute with Vazquez breaking a double-team and streaking down the center of the field and into the box. The feed from Erik Schleeweis was met with a subtle tap into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“I saw an open gap approaching on the right when I came closer and I knew it was good for me to make it through,” Vazquez said. “Then, when I saw the keeper come out, I just slid it past him.”
Leominster pushed the pace in the final 15 minutes, but failed to must many quality scoring chances; they were out-chanced in the match by a 3-to-1 ratio.
The Hurricanes weathered the storm, led by senior captain and center back Cody Baglow, leaving the rest to be scooped up by Barnes.
“As usual, it was incredible,” Barnes said of the defensive play in front of his net. “I couldn’t ask for a better back line. They save me from doing more work than I have to and it’s certainly a pleasure to have such a back line.”
Amherst advances to face Eastern Mass. champion Needham, which claimed a 2-1 win over North champion Somerville. The Hurricanes and Rockets will face off Friday at Worcester State College in a 7:30 p.m. start for the state title.