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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Two Cinderellas met on the turf at Whitman-Hanson High School on Saturday afternoon as the No. 11 Walpole Rebels took on the No. 10 Westwood Wolverines in the Division II South semifinals for boys soccer.
The Rebels (7-6-4) entered the contest after knocking out No. 6 Oliver Ames, the same team that ended their 2017 season, with a 2-1 first-round victory. The win was followed by a thrilling 1-0 triumph over Milford, thanks to a late goal by senior captain Aidan Murray.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines (9-6-2) headed to Whitman-Hanson following a thrilling 3-2 win over rival Medfield in the first round, followed by a 3-2 win at top-seeded New Bedford in the quarterfinals.
Despite being in different conferences (Westwood resides in the TVL, while Walpole competes in the Bay State Conference), there was no love lost between these two adjacent rivals, many of whom grew up playing club soccer with or against one another.
Following a scoreless first half that saw each team play extremely conservatively, Murray drew first blood for the Rebels with a goal off of a corner kick less than two minutes into the second half. Walpole lead 1-0 with 38:09 to play.
Less than two minutes later, Conor McDonough doubled Walpole’s lead to 2-0 with a goal in transition following a big save and clear by Rebels senior keeper and captain, Dennis Crowley.
Following a Westwood timeout to settle things down, Kevin Lyons responded for the Wolverines, taking a pass from Mike TeDuits on a free kick and hammering home a goal upstairs with a right-legged boot to make it a 2-1 game with 30:18 to play.
With around 20 minutes to play, Joshua Morrison-Deutsch broke in for Westwood on a fast break and fired a shot destined for the left side of the cage. Crowley sprawled to his left, made the incredible save and covered the ball up to preserve the one-goal lead.
The game remained 2-1 until stoppage time, when Pat Sullivan headed home a goal off of a net-mouth scramble to deliver the dagger, giving Walpole a commanding 3-1 advantage. The clock hit zeroes and Walpole advanced to Monday’s sectional final with the 3-1 victory.
“It’s amazing just to see how far we’ve come,” said Murray following the thrilling win. “We needed to get five points in our last three games just to get into the tournament. We did that, and now we’re here, it feels awesome.”
Murray also have high praises to his fellow captain and Walpole keeper, Dennis Crowley.
“He’s shown all season long that he’s one of the best keepers in the state,” said Murray. “He comes up big for us every game with huge saves and he brings great leadership to the table. We’ve learned to expect big things from him and he showed why today with those saves late in the game.”
Walpole head coach Lee Delaney says he was impressed with his team’s response during the second half.
“I thought we were playing well in the first half, we just weren’t making good decision with the ball,” said Delaney. “The second half, we were a little more aggressive, we limited our mistakes, and found the back of the net three times with good execution. It was nice to see.”
Like Murray, Delaney also says that the success of Walpole’s throughout the regular season and postseason has been thanks, in large part, to the play of Crowley.
“Dennis [Crowley] is a rock back there,” said Delaney. “He was our rock all year long. The one constant for us was Dennis Crowley, best goalie in the league. He gave us an opportunity to put it away with some late saves and on that second goal he came up big, got it up the field, and the guys in front of him executed well to bury one to put us up two. That was a huge swing, because it could’ve just as easily gone to a 1-1 game instead of 2-0 if Dennis isn’t back there.”
On Monday in the South finals against top-seeded Nauset Regional (18-0-0), Walpole’s incredible run came to end with a tough 2-1 defeat, despite a 10-save effort by Crowley. John Brady had the lone tally for the Rebs.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0.