Mountain Lions make first-ever final
An emotional Smith had a lot of things running through his head.
"My father was a coach and I played for him, he had a mantra that you play for your teammates," Smith said. "I've carried that as a coach for a long time and these guys bought into that and they've bought into it for four years. This is the result of it. Good things happen when you believe in that philosophy."
All of the promises of Long Trail become a player in Division IV soccer have come to fruition this season as the Mountain Lions edged No. 3 South Royalton, 2-1, and punched their ticket to a first-ever championship final on Saturday.
"I lost my dad when I accepted the Long Trail job [11 years ago] and it means a lot to me to be a part of this, I have a lot invested in this place," Smith said. "I'm emotional for personal reasons but more so for these kids. I told the kids that getting over the hump wouldn't be easy, but good things happen when you prepare well and we did that."
Will McCullough scored his team high 28th goal in the 20th minute, going through the Royals defense and hitting a lefty shot past South Royalton keeper Sam Fisk for a 1-0 lead.
"It was good to take the pressure off [early], Cabot [in the quarterfinal] shut us down pretty well," said McCullough.
"He's a competitor, he's got a good package at this level of soccer, tough, fit and knows the game," Smith said. "He's a distraction for a lot of teams, they can't stop him, they can only try to contain him."
However, with 5:28 left in the half, South Royalton tied the game. On a counterattack, Long Trail goalie Luc Carmel made a pair of saves, including a jumping stop, but Alvaro Sanabrio corralled the loose ball and buried it.
As the second half began, South Royalton had the Mountain Lions on its heels, but they weren't able to put anything into the back of the net as the game remained tied with 20 minutes to go.
But on a corner kick from McCullough, Oisin Harrington shouldered in the feed past Fisk to re-take the lead with 18 minutes left.
"When that goal went in, we felt like we would win, but it took mental focus [to finish the win]," McCullough said. [Oisin] has been on fire in the playoffs, so it's fitting he scored it."
As time dwindled away, the Royals pushed up, but the Long Trail defense was up to the task with Luca Ditursi coming up with a great slide tackle to clear a chance.
Carmel had seven stops on the afternoon, while Fisk had eight saves.
"Luc is a four year starter, a veteran and he's seen it," Smith said. "I don't like Luc to be busy and he hasn't been because the defense is strong in front of him. He's not always going to have the stats, but he's always been Steady Eddie for us."
Long Trail nearly sealed the deal with 2:40 left when Sean Bottomms fired a shot that Fisk punched away.
The Mountain Lions will face No. 1 Rivendell in the championship game — the Raptors were 1-0 winners on Tuesday against West Rutland.
"It's absolutely amazing, the nine seniors that we have, we've dreamed of this since freshmen year, it's always been the goal and now we get to go and try to win a [championship] banner. It's an incredible feeling," McCullough said. "To still be competing is amazing."
Adam Samrov can be reached at email@example.com, and 802-447-7567, x120.
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