Ryan Hannigan (25) cuts up field on a clear late in the second quarter. Photo by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Three of the last five years, Needham’s season ended at the hands of a Catholic Conference opponent in the Division I South Sectionals: Catholic Memorial in 2015 and BC High in 2018 and 2019.
With both teams at 12-2 and no other potential tiebreaker, a coin toss awarded Needham the No. 3 seed over Hingham. Needham’s reward? Potentially playing back-to-back Catholic Conference schools, drawing No. 14 Xaverian in the opening round on Friday, followed by facing the winner of No. 6 BC High and No. 11 Newton North if victorious against the Hawks (7-7).
Meanwhile, No. 4 Hingham defeated No. 13 Framingham on Saturday. The Harbormen will play No. 12 Silver Lake in the quarterfinals. It's safe to say that Hingham got the easier road out of the South, despite being the lower seed. Needham senior and Connecticut College-bound midfielder Ruben Melkonian agreed.
“We thought we got a little screwed over the in seeding,” said Melkonian. “But, we came out here and put our best effort in and it worked out.”
Behind Melkonian’s game-high four goals, a big 6-0 run between the third and fourth quarters helped the Rockets pull away late and advance with a 12-9 victory.
“It feels great getting my first high school playoff win,” said Melonian. “We lost to BC my sophomore year and last year obviously we didn’t have a season, so this was a great way to get it in front of our home crowd.”
Thomas Barker won the game’s opening face-off and scored off a fast break just five seconds in to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead. Goals by Connor McNaughton and Melkonian pushed the lead to 3-1 before Jake Gilbert finally got Xaverian on the board at the tail end of the first quarter.
Despite Needham’s strong start, Xaverian was able to weather the storm by outscoring the Rockets 4-2 in the second quarter to tie the game at five at halftime.
“Little murky,” said head coach David Wainwright on the win. “We were getting a little frustrated with ourselves once they made their little run to tie the game, and I think that’s when we started getting some of those playoff jitters. But ultimately, I think our guys got back to fundamentals and started crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s. I thought we were way more sound in that second half and it showed with that big run to go up by five. Proud of the way our guys competed and battled back today.”
Trailing 7-6 midway through the third following back-to-back goals by Xaverian’s Cristian and Sebastian Reyes, Cam Hickey fired in a goal from the center-box off a feed from Matt Carbone in transition to tie the game. Bryant-committed attack-man Nick Pisano stung home a bouncer down low on the run with 50 seconds remaining in the quarter to reclaim the lead for Needham at 8-7 at the end of three quarters.
Back-to-back goals by Melkonian early in the fourth pushed Needham’s lead to 10-7 before a man-up goal by Ithaca-bound attack-man Peter Nowlan made it 11-7. A gritty effort by Hickey, who fought off a pair of checks to the head on a crease dive made it a 12-7 game with just over six minutes to play. Back-to-back goals by Gilbert and Finn Maguire trimmed the deficit down to 12-9 for Xaverian, but Needham was able to stave off the late comeback bid to advance to next Wednesday’s quarterfinal.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.