FRYEBURG — On a cool autumn evening at the lighted soccer pitch of Greely High School (9-2-4, No. 3 seed) in Cumberland, Maine, the Fryeburg Academy Raiders (7-8-1, No. 11 seed) saw their fairy tale second half of the season, and their tournament run, come to a close with a 3-0 loss to the host Rangers on Wednesday, Oct.30.
Trailing 1-0 with three minutes left in the first half, Fryeburg looked to be within striking distance to score another playoff upset. The Raiders went on the road and defeated Gardiner (7-6-2, No. 6) during preliminary round play on Oct. 26.
The final three minutes of the half dealt the Raider's chances a cruel blow. With 2:39 remaining, the Rangers connected on a long restart which sent Chris Williams in alone where he finished cleanly past Fryeburg goalkeeper Chandler Adams. Then with just 10 seconds remaining in the half, Aidan Melville collected another long pass during the run of play and got behind the Raiders defense to make it 3-0 heading to the break. For Melville, it was his second goal of the match, having opened the scoring just 12:09 into the game with a 30-yard blast from a short restart pass around the Raiders wall. The topspin shot skipped off the grass and evaded Adams, on a play in which Fryeburg Coach Bob Hodgman-Burns (HB) lamented his team's failure to rush toward the initial pass.
Down by 3-0, the wind seem to come out of the Fryeburg sails, and the second half saw less excitement and intensity than the first. For 37 minutes of the match, the Raiders had the edge in possession and looked to be the more dangerous side. At the 17-minute mark, a driven Raider corner kick led to a flurry in the box, and Louis Sehr found space to perform a bicycle kick which he coolly lofted over Ranger goalkeeper Schuyler Wedman, only to have the ball headed over the crossbar by a defender on the goal line. The Raiders most spectacular and best chance
of the night went for naught.
For much of the half, the Raiders passed through the midfield, probing for openings and one-on-one opportunities for their skillful attackers. Wedman was forced to make a sliding save in the 19th minute when Gil Sehr snuck between the Ranger backs, and at 24 minutes a sliding Wedman forced Pablo Lozano to chip under pressure, and the shot went just over the crossbar.
The Rangers were not without chances of their own which more frequently resulted from quick counter-attacks to their speedy front-line. Adams smothered one breakaway himself at the 24-minute mark, cut down the angle and forced a shot wide in the 30th minute, and deflected a driven corner kick out of danger at the 34th.
The Raiders best second-half opportunity came at the 52 minutes, when Kenyi Musembi got his head first to a driven restart from the right flank by Pablo Lozano, but his effort went over the crossbar.
Coach HB, while disappointed with the result, was pleased with his team's performance. As predicted, his Raiders were able to create many scoring chances; leading to the quarterfinal match, finishing those chances had been the primary focus in training. But HB acknowledged, "Greely was the better team on the night. They deserved to win."
Greely went on to beat No. 7 York 1-0 in the Class B South semifinals on Saturday. The Rangers will play No.1 Yarmouth in the Class B South final at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford, Maine, this Wednesday at 6 p.m.
York booked its spot in the finals with a 2-0 victory over fourth seeded Freeport on Saturday.
Imagining the Raiders even playing at this stage of the tournament was quite a stretch back on Sept. 26, when Fryeburg’s record stood at 1-5-1. But the Raiders adapted as new international players received playing clearance, and a starting 11 which included more than half of the starters who were unable to be at season-opening practice evolved. Every field position was manned by a different player than the 2018 Raiders edition, so it is not surprising that finding their rhythm, adjusting to new positions and developing trust and understanding among players was a season-long process.
HB is excited by the possibilities for 2020. The Raiders will lose two starters in center back Bobby LeBlanc and left back Caden Daigle to graduation in May. If international students return, the soccer program policy of requiring early arrival for full preseason for returning students will give the Raiders a more settled lineup and continuity from day one next August.
But HB is certain not to discount the accomplishments of this year's team: a first playoff victory in five years, and a first return to post-season play in three years. Not too shabby results for a team that was mired near the bottom of the Western Maine Class B South Heal Point standings just five weeks earlier.