By Lloyd Jones
FRYEBURG — The Fryeburg Academy boys' soccer team's streak of consecutive playoff appearances is alive and well and reached nine years in a row following a hard-fought 1-0 victory on the road in a misty rain at Sacopee Valley in Hiram in the regular season finale on Tuesday night.
The Raiders entered the match on the outside looking in at the post-season, needing a win and then a little bit of help from around the league to secure a playoff berth. The stars aligned for Coach Bob Hodgman-Burns and his troops.
"We were in 13th going in (only the top 12 make the playoffs)," Hodgman-Burns explained. "I didn't know if we were going to make it or not, but I think that may have helped us. We played loose. I told the boys, 'Go out and have fun, don't let your last time playing as a senior be something you regret.' It worked.
"We played well," he continued. "I'm glad we got in (the playoffs). These guys deserve it, they're a really good bunch. We have a lot of seniors. I'm glad for them to get a tournament game."
Seniors on this year's team are Evan Wadsworth, Nabeel Ghadfa, Huxley Lovering, Will Davis, Ethan Swayze, Dominic Malia, Owen Sullivan, Andrew Malia and Will Zeliff.
Fryeburg, the No. 10 seed, will face a familiar foe in the Class B preliminary round match, traveling to No. 7 seed Gray-New Gloucester (7-6-1) on Friday at 6 p.m.
The Raiders beat the Patriots 1-0 in Gray on Sept. 27.
"That win is probably the biggest reason we're in the tournament," Hodgman-Burns said. "It got us a bunch of heal points."
In that first encounter, Fryeburg (6-8) took the lead three minutes into the contest when Ghadfa beat two defenders to score the lone goal and then the Raiders played brilliant defense to leave town with the points.
"My thinking is we need to score early," Hodgman-Burns said. "We don't score a ton of goals, but when we do we tend to protect the lead well. We did a really good job of defending in that first game."
It was a familiar formula on Tuesday for the Raiders in Hiram. Sullivan beat a Hawk down the sideline, crossed into the penalty area to a charging Bishton, who met the ball, took one dribble and then tucked it calmly into the back of the net.
"We'd been working on that in practice the day before and it translated to the game," Hodgman-Burns said, laughing. "It's always nice when that can happen."
Fryeburg came out playing a 4-3-3 formation looking to be a little more offensive-minded. It paid off. The Raiders carried play through much of the first half.
With the lead at halftime, Hodgman-Burns reverted back to a 4-4-2 in order to protect the advantage. Goalie Zeliff had just one save on the night, yet was a constant thorn to the Hawks.
"He's so good at coming off his line and getting to balls that at one point (a Sacopee) player yelled, 'That's not going to work tonight,'" Hodgman-Burns said. "Will is a difference-maker. He's definitely the best goalie I've had here."
Hodgman-Burns praised the play of midfielder Wadsworth, who was all over the pitch, and Max Kummer, who made a seamless transition to the defensive ranks to fill in for the injured Lovering.
Fryeburg picked up valuable points on Oct. 13 with a 3-0 win at Poland.
"We won 3-0 in a pretty steady rain in a match where we didn't see a shot on net from them and had well over a dozen good chances," Hodgman-Burns said.
Bishton put the Raiders in front with a goal in the fifth minute, scoring on a header off a corner.
Gaige Daigle found the back of the old onion bag with 20 minutes to play with a head roof his own off another corner kick.
Ghadfa made it 3-0 with a blast from the top of the 18-yard line on a nice dribble and low shot.
"We played with only three backs and went with five midfielders to maximize possession and offense and it worked well," Hodgman-Burns said.
Hodgman-Burns likes the underdog role for the tournament.
"No one thought we'd be here," he said, "It's like we're playing with house money. We've got nothing to lose. We're going to stay loose and see how the ball bounces."
In other soccer notes, the reserve team closed the book on a successful first season under the helm of Coach Izzy Hodgman-Burns. The Raiders topped Poland 5-2 in their final match.
"It's been really nice having her coach with me," Hodgman-Burns said of his daughter. "It's been a nice bonding experience. (Laughing) She's been like a big sister to the boys while I've been the stern dad."
- Category: High School