|Junior Alec Buduo led Shrewsbury with four goals, all in the third quarter.|
SHREWSBURY - While it may not have been a picture-perfect finish for the Colonials, it was an ending Shrewsbury will enjoy all the same. Thanks to an eight-goal third period, Shrewsbury built a lead, then held on for death life in the fourth to edge rival Algonquin 11-10.
The win moved Shrewsbury, who began the year 2-5 following a blowout loss to cross-town rival St. John's, to 7-5, and 4-0 in Mid-Wach A play. As the Colonials sit atop the league, they do so knowing they have defeated the next three best teams in Mid-Wach A (Wachusett, Groton-Dunstable and now Algonquin) each by a single goal.
"Every Mid-Wach game we go in to, we know it's gonna be a battle," senior midfielder Matty Ward said. "I'm proud that we pulled it out, and we've been able to pull out these kinds of games the past few weeks. It's huge for us, being 4-0 our first time through the league, and we're looking to continue it the rest of the season."
"If we're going down, the other team is gonna have to earn it," Shrewsbury coach Nate Skermont said. "We got our heads kicked in by St. John's, there's no other way to put it… We were 2-5, and we could have gone two different ways there."
Young Colonial Defense Gelling
While winning close games has become a habit of this Shrewsbury team, the Colonials never stopped playing good defense, even with a host of young players contributing. Shrewsbury's pole trio of junior Jack Tepper, junior Nick Perron and sophomore Sean Vroman held it together in front of junior goalie Mike Fornal, who turned away 8 shots on the day.
But open looks were hard to come by in the first three periods and, when the T-Hawks weren't running in transition, they rarely got off a shot clean.
"We compliment (our defense) with Soup (junior LSM Chris Campbell) up top, and we've added (Shrewsbury football standout) A.J. Laramee, who is an outstanding athlete," Skermont said. "And we make all our middies play defense in practice non-stop."
With so many willing and capable defenders, not to mention a few players back from injury, keep an eye on this Shrewsbury defense, which seems to have its best days in front of it.
Pouring It On in the Third
At the end of the day, it was a big third quarter that allowed Shrewsbury to pull away and hang on to this critical league win. The Colonials outscored Algonquin 8-3 in the period, led by four goals in the quarter by junior Alec Buduo. Also on fire in the quarter was sophomore Alex Cashman, who added a pair of scores during the Shrewsbury onslaught.
"(In the third quarter) when they locked Matty (Ward) off, it just gave the rest of us more room to show our skill," Buduo said. "I think our middies just beat their guys. I found the hole, and they just found me."
Algonquin Never Says Die
But the T-Hawks refused to fade away. Despite Shrewsbury LSM Chris Campbell securing possession of the fourth quarter's opening draw, and Shrewsbury milking four minutes off the clock with its first possession, Algonquin still scored five unanswered goals in the fourth to make it a one goal game inside of two minutes remaining.
Senior attackman Zack Skowronek gave Algonquin some much-needed life with a goal at 4:21 of the fourth period, then senior Matt Cannon scored his fourth goal of the afternoon to make it a three-goal game. After that, sophomore Dom Russo scored back-to-back goals, the second of which came after he forced a Shrewsbury turnover in the Colonial zone, to make it a one-goal game.
But, after a controversial out of bounds call went Shrewsbury's way (the refs did get the call right, though it was the ref farther away from the play that eventually made the correct call that it went out of bounds off an Algonquin stick), Algonquin was called for a high stick, and the Colonials were able to run out the game's final 30 seconds.
"We bent, we didn't break," Skermont said. "(Algonquin) is an outstanding team. Don't let their record fool anybody. Look at who they've played, and look at the skill they have. We knew if we let them get in transition they'd make us pay, and (in the fourth) we let them get in transition on us."
As I said above, Shrewsbury has now won five in a row to get to 7-5 overall, and sits undefeated at 4-0 in Mid-Wach A as the league season reaches its halfway point. Algonquin, meanwhile, finds itself in unfamiliar territory at 4-6 overall and 1-3 in the league.
As coach Skermont said, don't let that record fool you. Algonquin has played a brutal early slate, and has now lost two of its league games by a combined two goals. With Cannon, Skowronek and Russo up top, Algonquin has the skill to put the ball in the net, but the T-Hawks did struggle at the face-off X against Campbell, giving Shrewsbury the possession advantage.
Still, Algonquin is a very skilled team that is playing better and better of late. The T-Hawks will need that to translate to wins, and fast, as they travel to Concord-Carlisle Friday for a rematch of the 2012 D2 state championship game, then host Wachusett in a critical league game next Tuesday.
The schedule gets no easier with a trip to Franklin and home game against Grafton, before Gonk jumps back into league play against Groton-Dunstable, then hosts regional power St. John's.
After all that, Algonquin gets a respite against struggling Westboro, but must then play Shrewsbury again. As I said, this is unfamiliar territory to the most accomplished public school program in Central Mass, but the combination of a tough schedule, and a slow start, has Algonquin's tournament hopes on life support.
Can Algonquin go 5-3 against that slate to make the tournament? Sure it can, but league games become even more important, because if Algonquin can sweep the back half of the league schedule, there's a solid chance the T-Hawks could grab second place in Mid-Wach A, earning a tournament spot without getting to .500.
Neither road is easy, and it's hard to imagine the tournament without Algonquin, but remember that Shrewsbury, a public school with a recent state title game run under its belt, missed the playoffs last season. It happens, even to the best programs.
Getting back to Shrewsbury, it's almost unfathomable that the Colonials have been able to turn things around so drastically. Winning close games is often discounted as "luck," but this is a mentally tough group that has yet to shrink away from a big moment. Barring a total collapse, Shrewsbury is in great shape to secure a Top-2 finish in Mid-Wach A and a .500 record, so the Colonials do look tournament bound. Once they get there, watch out, because this group is playing vintage Shrewsbury defense, with a blue collar mentality and a passion for grabbing ground balls.
Add in the fact that Buduo, Cashman, Cole Russo and Colin Michael have all proven to be threats at different points in the season, and you suddenly have an offense capable of scoring when teams key on Ward. Oh, and lest we forget Chris Campbell's abilities to keep the ball in Shrewsbury's hands as a FO and a defender.
Shrewsbury may not be the most purely talented team in the region, but it's a group that is growing up, and showing a ton of mental toughness along the way. As is usually the case with this program, the Colonials won't be favorites come tournament time, but I doubt anybody will look forward to playing them.