By Kevin Eickman
This past Tuesday the Milford Buccaneers Soccer Team, winners of the Henlopen North title, battled Indian River, winners of the Henlopen South title in a winner take all match. While to some this may have seemed like a glorified exhibition, to the participants it was a chance to stake their claim to a championship. Played under the lights at DE Turf, both teams came ready to play and for those in attendance, it was well worth watching the contest played under frigid conditions.
While Milford had beaten Indian River earlier in the season, the Buccaneers knew going in that their opponents would come ready to play ‘We beat IR at their house during the regular season, so we knew they would have liked nothing better than to win the championship.” Milford coach Todd French said.
The game started out as a back and forth affair, while Milford had a few more opportunities, the visitors were playing possession ball and worked the ball into the Milford area on a few occasions as well. As Milford began to try and increase the heat late in the first half, they got a taste of their own medicine as IR senior Willem Lambertson broke free on a counter in the game’s 33rd minute. Milford senior goalkeeper Kirk Hammer could do little to stop the strike as Indian River would notch the first goal of the game and hand IR a 1-0 lead “My immediate thought after giving up the goal was rather relaxed, we had been in this position before and I didn’t have any doubt we would find a way back.” French said.
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The lead would be short-lived however as the Buccaneers would ratchet up the pressure, in search of an equalizer. Milford’s persistence would be rewarded as the game inched closer to halftime. In the 37th minute, the Buccaneers were presented with a free-kick opportunity from just outside the box. The ball was struck off the wall and bounced around in the penalty area, before finding the right foot of Milford senior Manny Carranza, who deftly found the back of the net. The teams would end the half knotted at 1-1,
Milford would ratchet up the pressure to start the second half, looking to take the lead and control of the game that went with it. The Buccaneer’s persistence paid off, as senior Sammy Dominguez would find twine in the games 58th minute on a solid strike from the left-hand side of the pitch. With Milford now in front, the onus was now on Indian River to try and pull back the game.
Indian River, now being forced to take more of an attacking stance, found themselves threatening in Milford territory numerous times, only to be thwarted. The key for keeping a clean sheet in the second half would be the play of seniors Luke Bogan, Josiah Moore and Ben Hamilton, as well as Hammer “I can’t say enough about how well the backline played tonight, especially when they [IR] started sending more bodies forward. Those guys have been solid all year and they were again tonight.”
The final goal of Milford’s 3-1 victory would come courtesy of a misplay by Indian River in their defensive half. Buccaneers senior Aaron Sollie would pounce a missed pass and chip the ball over the Indian River goalkeeper’s head, who could only watch helplessly as the ball sailed into the net.
With the 3-1 win, and the Henlopen title now secure, it was time for celebration and reflection on the part of the Bucs players and coaches “I have known some of these guys since they were in third grade and to watch how they have matured and to earn a title like this really speaks to their dedication. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of these guys; I truly am bursting with pride for them tonight.” French said.
The week would not end well for Milford however as they fell in the opening round of the playoffs to Middletown, 2-1 Saturday night. While it is never easy, French noted how proud he was of this year’s squad “Sometimes you don’t win, it happens. Unfortunately for us it came in the playoffs, against a very tough opponent. That doesn’t diminish all that we accomplished this year, this was a very special year for us. Once the pain of losing goes away, the guys will understand just what a fantastic team they were.”