(Nov. 1, 2019) Seven of the Worcester Prep boys’ soccer team’s games went into overtime this season, with three of them happening in the final week of competition, including the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference championship.
Undeniably, the most thrilling overtime game was for the conference championship, which not only went into extra periods but also into a shoot-out.
The Mallards hosted the Salisbury School Dragons for the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference championship last Friday in Berlin.
After 80 minutes of play, the game was scoreless.
“We dominated possession, we just couldn’t bury a goal. That’s been kind of our story all year,” said Prep Coach Jon Adkins. “Our shots were on net, but the Salisbury School goalkeeper played fantastic and made some really good saves.
“Our defense held strong. They didn’t have any threading shots on [freshman] Jack [Gardner],” he continued. “That was our best game we played all year, those 80 minutes.”
Tied, 0-0, the Mallards prepared to go into their third overtime of the week.
“I said, ‘We’ve been here before.’ We’re 3-1-3, so we’ve only lost one overtime game,” he said. “We know what to do. We know to up our intensity.”
Adkins was pleased with his players’ performance in the first 10-minute extra period.
“Again, we dominated possession in the first overtime and we had some good chances,” he said. “Our corner play was threatening, but their goalkeeper made some good saves.”
As time ticked down in the second overtime, senior captain Ryan Cronin took a shot, which ricocheted off the goal post.
“I think everybody thought it went in,” Adkins said. “That’s Ryan. He’s Mr. Clutch for us. He missed it by an inch.”
With the game still scoreless, the conference champion would be decided by penalty kicks.
Knowing this scenario might happen, Adkins had the Mallards take shots for about a half hour during practice the day before the big game.
“I put pressure on the guys to make it,” he said.
The five players who missed the least amount of shots during practice lined up to take the penalty kicks.
Senior Max Huber made all of his shots the day before, so when Adkins asked the boys who wanted to go last, he volunteered.
“I’m not usually very confident, but I was confident and I decided to volunteer,” he said.
Salisbury went first and scored, then Cronin buried his shot.
Salisbury’s next shooter sailed the ball over the top of the net, then sophomore Brice Richins’ shot was saved.
The Dragons were successful on their third attempt, and so were the Mallards as senior captain Gavin Carmody netted his shot.
Salisbury’s next player shot the ball over the goal. Then, Prep senior Max Taylor’s shot was stopped.
The Dragon’s goalie took their fifth shot, which Gardner saved.
The freshman goalie admitted he felt pressure going into the shoot-out, never being in that situation before.
“I was nervous on two of them, but I was very confident on three of them, because they were looking directly where they wanted to shoot,” Gardner said.
When he saved the Dragon’s final shot he said it felt “amazing.”
With the score tied 2-2, Huber – the final shooter for Worcester – stepped to the line.
“It was strange because normally I’m a very nervous person, but I was like Zen,” he said. “That was the most calm I think I’ve been the whole game. I knew what I needed to do and I was going to do it.”
Huber said he is most comfortable shooting to the right, and that’s where he went. He put the ball past the Salisbury goalie and Worcester won the championship title.
“When I scored I didn’t exactly know we had won – I thought I scored to keep us in it – so I turned around and my entire team was running at me and then I realized what had just happened and I was super excited,” Huber said.
“We knew if it got to him he was going to end it. I believed in him,” Adkins said. “I didn’t think for one second he was going to miss it.”
Not only did his teammates rush Huber to celebrate, but so did the spectators that had been standing on the sideline.
Everyone then gathered on the field to watch the Mallards receive their sixth consecutive championship trophy.
“We were playing our best soccer and I said this is for all the conditioning we did in the preseason, this is for all the people who said we couldn’t be here,” Adkins said. “We just came up on top. It’s very exciting.”
Adkins said the season had its ups and downs.
He joined the team as an assistant to Head Coach Terry Underkoffler last year. When Underkoffler, a Hall of Fame coach with over 500 career wins, decided to retire after seven seasons leading the squad, Adkins was happy to take over the program for the 2019 season.
Last year the team relied on Vincent Petrera for goal scoring. He finished the season with 39 goals and was named Conference Player of the Year.
But, Petrera transferred to another school and the team also graduated 10 players who were major contributors, while a few other boys who saw a good amount of time on the field decided to play different sports this fall.
“We lost basically all of our starters and our best player went to a different school,” senior captain Alec Burbage said during preseason in August. “People don’t think we’re going to be good this year, but we want to prove them wrong.”
The Mallards did just that, although it took a little while to show it.
“One stretch we only had three wins and five losses. I think that’s when a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be anything,” Adkins said. “I talked to the boys after the loss to Holly Grove in overtime and I said we’re not going to lose another game. We made adjustments and we haven’t lost since.”
After the 3-2 loss in over time to Holly Grove on Oct. 4, Worcester tied twice and won five games, including the championship.
The Mallards finished the season with eight wins, three ties and five losses.
Adkins said he enjoyed his first season as head coach.
“It was a great year, a fun year. I love coaching,” he said. “These boys, the senior class was very special. They’re great kids.”
Several players received All-Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference awards.
Cronin, who led the team in goals with 12, Huber, Taylor and sophomore Michael Wehberg were presented All-Conference accolades.
Carmody earned honorable mention distinction.
Adkins presented his team awards to Cronin (MVP), Wehberg (Coaches Award) and Huber (Most Improved).
The team will graduate 10 seniors, many of whom were main contributors. But despite losing so many players, Adkins thinks the team will be solid next year with a core group slated to return.
“We’ll be young, but there were guys who came off the bench for us and gave us solid minutes,” he said. “They were all freshmen and sophomores. We also had some sophomores starting for us.”