TAUNTON, Mass. -- There are certain points in a game when a goal will have the biggest impact on an opponent. Early goals, goals just before halftime, or goals coming out of the break can be devastating to the mental state of the opposing team.
The Rockets used all three on Friday night.
The Needham High boys’ soccer team picked the perfect moments to score each of its three goals in a 3-0 shutout of the No. 4 seed Dartmouth in Friday night’s Division 1 South sectional semifinal at Taunton High School.
Senior captain Will Corkery scored just 90 seconds into the game with a laser into the top corner off an assist from fellow captain Mac Steeves. The goal stunned the Indians (15-3-2), but they came back stronger and continued to push the top seed.
At the end of an even first half, the Rockets (18-1-3) struck again.
Just four minutes before the break, Hantzly Murat -- who had been on the field for less than a minute -- was in the right place to prod home the rebound of a Steeves shot to make it 2-0 going into the half. At this stage, the next goal was going to be crucial to the outcome.
Needham didn't have to wait long for that.
The Rockets effectively killed off the game two minutes into the second half when a Steeves long throw picked out an unmarked Aram Ouligiam to nod home the third. Dartmouth continued to fight and create chances, but Needham defended well and held out for the win.
Dartmouth head coach Steve Frank acknowledged after the game that heads dropped on the Indians sideline when the third goal was scored.
“That deflated them," he said. "We didn’t mark him. He had an open net to head into and you just can’t do that. You can’t do it against weak teams, never mind a great team like this one.”
While Steeves is the headliner for the Rockets, head coach Don Brock emphasized the strength the Rockets have shown defensively this season.
“They’ve been underrating our crew since we stumbled a little at the beginning of the season," he said. "This is a good squad.”
Following Corkery’s opener, Dartmouth had a series of free kicks that were played long into the box, but Needham keeper Kevin MacMillan held strong with solid catches in traffic. In the 18th minute, the Indians had their best chance at an equalizer when Nick Paine’s shot was cleared off the line by Ouligiam.
In the second half, Dartmouth also had a chance cleared off the line as Andres Pinto had a strong header blocked. Needham also had several chances to extend the lead through Nolan Brady and a Corkery free kick that curled off the crossbar.
The Indians battled an unfamiliar turf surface and the Rockets’ height advantage, but continued to fight to avoid a shutout, which impressed their coach.
“This group has been tremendous, just a pleasure to be around," Frank said. "They play hard. Up to the end we were trying to plug to get a goal so we could stop the shutout, but it wasn’t to be.”
Needham advances to the sectional finals Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Braintree High, against Bay State Conference rivals Weymouth.
State tournament notes:
• When the Needham and Weymouth players shook hands and walked off the Memorial Field pitch after the Rockets ended the Wildcats’ very short reign as the No. 1 team in the state, both teams said, “We’ll see you in the playoffs.” Thanks to an overtime goal by senior Akere Tambi, Weymouth advanced past Oliver Ames on its home field. The Tigers took the lead twice but both times Weymouth responded and now the top two seeds will meet for the third time this season. Oliver Ames made another strong push this season, which may be its last in Division 1. Head coach Jon Barata expects the Tigers to be in D2 next season.
• The number one seed also advanced to the D1 South girls’ sectional as the Franklin Panthers continued their unbeaten season with a 2-0 win over Marshfield. Kristi Kirshe scored her 99th career goal in the Panthers victory. It will be an all-Hockomock final after Oliver Ames knocked off the No. 2 seeded Needham Rockets. The lone goal of the game was scored by senior Kendall Andrew.
• The big game in the D1 North sectional pitted No. 1 seed Masconomet (the No. 1 ranked team in the state) against fourth-seeded St. John’s Prep. The game lived up to the hype with Prep pulling the 2-1 upset and advancing to the finals on Sunday against still unbeaten Somerville. Prep has now knocked off two of the top five teams in the state to make the sectional finals (the other being Acton-Boxborough in round two). In the girls’ sectional, the Beverly Panthers continued to make a historic run as they knocked off Westford Academy 1-0 and will meet Central Catholic, who won by the same score line against Lincoln-Sudbury.
• The defending state champions are still alive, but just barely. The Ludlow Lions were pushed to overtime by Chicopee in the West sectional, but scored the golden goal to continue on, 2-1 and will face Amherst in the sectional finals. Both the Belchertown boys’ and girls’ teams continued their unbeaten runs and will head to their respective D2 West finals.
• There are a lot of conferences that get their rightful due as being competitive top to bottom, such as the Hockomock, the Bay State, and the Dual County, but the Tri-Valley league is rarely part of that conversation. This year, the TVL sent three teams into the semifinals of the D2 South boys sectional, will send the Medfield girls into the D2 South finals, and Dover-Sherborn boys and girls into the D3 finals. The league is often overlooked because it lacks a presence in D1, but it has real depth and is guaranteed at least one team taking home a sectional title this season.
• Earlier this week, star players Andrea O’Brien (Concord-Carlisle) and Hayley Dowd (Peabody) had their illustrious high school careers come to an end. On Friday night, Canton’s Lauren Berman had her season ended at the hands of Duxbury in penalties. All three crossed the 100-goal plateau in their careers and each will be headed to play in college next season (Dowd and O’Brien at Boston College, and Berman at Maryland).