(Highlights courtesy of The Needham Channel)
LYNN, Mass. -- Mac Steeves scored two first-half goals, including one from the penalty spot, to bring Needham back from a goal down in a 2-1 victory over previously unbeaten Somerville on Wednesday night at Manning Field.
The Rockets' 6-foot-4 forward was a menace throughout. In addition to scoring goals, Steeves was a towering presence in the midfield and defense as Needham dropped back midway into the second half.
Needham head coach Don Brock, who will be looking for the third state championship of his illustrious career, spoke after the game about the team’s many uses for Steeves in late-game situations.
“We’ve been doing it for several years with Mac," he said. "He can play anywhere on the field. He’s one of the taller players and he’s got a tremendous boot.”
Somerville started the game brighter, with its own star Felix De Bona forcing Needham goalie Kevin MacMillan into two early saves. The Highlanders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute when Francisco Neto’s cross from the left caromed into the net off the knee of Rockets defender Jack Nardi.
Gradually, Needham started to get more control of the ball in the midfield through senior captains Brandon Miskin and William Corkery.
The game changed in the 25th minute when Steeves, who had already had an early chance well-saved by Luis Guerra, was played in by an incisive through ball from Miskin. The team’s leading scorer made no mistake with a cool finish into the bottom corner.
Just before the break, Steeves went down in the box as he battled with Somerville defender Andre Rolim (who also received a yellow card). A penalty was given and Steeves sent Guerra the wrong way to give Needham its first lead of the night.
The call was hotly disputed by Somerville head coach George Scarpelli.
“It’s disheartening," he said. "You play that long and that hard, you know...It was tough when you lose on something like that. You’re talking about two kids that battled all night long. This is why you preach- finish your chances and we would have been there.”
The second half saw little in the way of goalmouth action as the Rockets dropped back into a defensive shell. Both goalies were only forced into one save apiece following the halftime interval.
Scarpelli saw the strategy being implemented and knew that it would be problematic for his team given the size and strength of the Rockets.
“They dropped off," he said. "They put six guys in the back and left one kid up top and it worked. I give a lot of credit to Needham. Coach Brock is a legend, he knows how to play these games and he did it.”
For Steeves, and the rest of the Needham seniors, it was a job well done and sets up a chance to win the program’s first state title since the turn of the millennium.
“Our team, collectively, just played a great game," Brock said. "Our defense has improved so much all season. I think we just put together a good game there and knocked off a very, very good team.”
Needham will advance to the state championship game to be played Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against Amherst, at Worcester State University.
After Needham’s win, Don Brock commented that he wished that the Rockets would be taking on Ludlow in the state finals so to “get even with them.” Brock, who has more than 600 wins in his career, will have the chance to add his fourth state title on Friday Night.
Brock will not get Ludlow, but he will be facing a West region team. Amherst held off Leominster 1-0 in the semifinal game played at Nashoba Regional to advance to Worcester. This was not the expected semifinal matchup as most predicted a rematch of last year’s battle (in the metaphorical and literal sense) between top seeds Worcester North and Ludlow. It was fitting that the two teams that knocked off the top seeds would get to play each other. Amherst have now won three in a row by 1-0 scorelines (the game against Ludlow was scoreless into penalties but goes down officially as a 1-0 win), but it will be a tough task to keep the Rockets off the board.
Franklin will face Nashoba in the D1 girls final after the Panthers beat Beverly 2-0 in the early game at Manning Field. Kristi Kirshe, who is on the list of submitted names for All-American status, ended a two-game scoreless streak and notched her 100th goal of her career on an early free kick. Kirshe was dropped into a midfield role against Beverly as they looked to disrupt its attack. The star of the game was Julia Bireley, who was given the man-marking job on Beverly junior striker Caitlin Harty. Harty has scored an incredible 50 goals this season, but barely got a whiff of the goal thanks to the attentions of the junior defender. Friday’s early game should be a classic between two teams that have been ranked all season. Nashoba knocked off Minnechaug, who beat the favorites East Longmeadow in the sectional.
Groton-Dunstable will attempt to defend its D2 boys’ state title after handing Belchertown its first loss of the season. The opponent will be the mustangs of Medway who have advanced to the state finals despite losing their best player, Matt Coakley. Sutton will also look to defend its title (Division 3) when it takes on Watertown in the finals. The D3 North sectional champs advanced with a win over Dover-Sherborn in penalties.
It will be a battle of unbeaten in the D2 girls’ championship game as Medfield (the 2010 state champs) will face West sectional champions Belchertown. This is the final season for the Orioles at this level and they will have a tough task against the Warriors, who received national top 25 votes in the latest NSCAA poll released yesterday.