Following a season of blowout shutouts and a defensive stat line like none the school had ever seen, the Wildcats’ determination has payed off, and Twin Valley is headed to Whitcomb High School on Saturday for a rematch with Proctor at 2 pm.
TV 5 Arlington 0
Low temperatures and a swirling wind made for a cold Friday afternoon when the Arlington Eagles came to town for the second round of the division IV playoffs. But the Twin Valley Wildcats stayed hot, using four different scorers and their typical mainstay defense to key a 5-0 shutout victory.
Keegan Reed looked especially alive in the first half, scoring one goal and coming up with an assist within the first 11 minutes. Reed scored on a one-bounce long bomb throw-in from Dal Nesbitt, not even settling the ball, just kicking it to the right of goalie DJ Jennings for the early lead. Reed would find Nick Nilsen 10 minutes later, dribbling into the box on the right side. Without a shot of his own to take, Reed dished the ball through the Arlington defense to the top of the box. Nilsen settled the ball, took one tap, and drilled a shot into the right side again.
Arlington’s defense tried hard to keep up with the Wildcats’ speed, and Konnor Andrews did an especially good job of clearing balls when he could, but Twin Valley just found a way to use all of their weapons, and work around the Eagles’ feet. Colin Lozito got on the board with an unassisted shot in the 23rd minute for the 3-0 lead. Lozito was able to work his way into the box after taking a backward pass from Hank Sweeney on the right side. Lozito seemed to slide along the goal line, making two defenders miss. Instead of attempting to find a shooter in the middle, Lozito saw Jennings had left his line open. Lozito seemed to squeeze the ball in to the tightest space he could find and it worked.
The lead became 4-0 when Lozito nailed a long bomb penalty kick from the left side into the upper 90, skimming the crossbar, a simply indefensible shot due to its placement.
The first half saw a scary moment with the score 3-0 as Jennings came out to charge a ball being powered down the field by Nesbitt. Jennings came out of the box with a full head of steam but rather than going for the ball, aimed for Nesbitt causing a violent collision. Both players would remain on the ground, Jennings for nearly 10 minutes. He had to sit out the rest of the game. The Wildcats were given a penalty kick on the play, much to the dissatisfaction of irate Eagles coach Todd Wilkins, who was given a yellow card for berating the officials.
The Wildcats would add one more goal in the second half as the team’s leading scorer Dal Nesbitt got a shot off replacement Eagles goalie Lucas Stroffoleno, who bobbled a shot off his chest. Nesbitt took advantage of the loose ball, putting it in the net, colliding with Stroffoleno whom he flipped over before being able to celebrate.
“It’s all about pressure,” said Twin Valley coach Buddy Hayford. “Pressure the ball on the defensive end and possessing on the offensive end and just try to keep it simple. Quickly and simply for this group is to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season.”
TV 6 Cabot 0
With one game separating the Wildcats from returning to the big dance, the boys in white and red did not disappoint, but stiff competition from the visiting Cabot Huskies sure didn’t make it easy.
Twin Valley was kept on their toes in the first half by a team that incorporated speed and great midfield play to threaten. Eli Park had his work cut out for him on the day as Cabot found ways to work the ball into Twin Valley’s last line of defense. Within the first three minutes the Huskies and Wildcats challenged each other. Jonah Jarvis sent a pass to the Huskies’ Jeremy Maxfield who missed a header kicked out by keeper Sam Molner. But Twin Valley came back and threatened to score on a header of their own when senior offensive attackers Dal Nesbitt and Colin Lozito combined on a throw-in for the 1-0 lead.
Cabot’s game plan was obvious in the first half. Beat the Wildcats at their own game by winning in the midfield, filling the passing gaps, and using their speed. Twin Valley looked off-balance, and Nesbitt and Lozito had trouble sparking their offense and creating plays. Meanwhile, Jarvis and Darren Celley were able to get multiple shots on Molner that kept firing high right or directly to the keeper. The frustration was there for the Wildcats, in their expressions and in their play after Celley bounced a shot off the crossbar. But with just 9:18 left in the first half, Nesbitt was able to sneak a shot past Cabot keeper Seth Herrick on a pass from Nick Nilsen from right to left.
Twin Valley wasn’t comfortable with the 2-0 lead, and looking to expand on that number, Eli Park knocked in a header in the 55th minute into the left side of the goal on another Nesbitt throw-in after Herrick tried to charge the ball in the air. Seconds later, Lozito nailed a big shot from the top of the box for the four-goal lead.
Twin Valley continued to wear down the Huskies, their offense and defense working together for another shutout. A particularly strong defensive performance by all in the second half kept Cabot scoreless, while an own goal off Ian Nally added another point. Park capped off the day with a direct kick from midfield that Herrick misjudged and let in off his fingertips.
“We had to do more defense then we had to all year today,” said Park. “We definitely needed the test because aside from maybe Springfield we didn’t have a whole lot of work to do in the back this year and it’s good for everyone to have the experience of being under that kind of pressure and being able to get out of it. Whoever we ended up playing is going to be tough.”
Buddy Hayford, who celebrated 500 career games on the sidelines this season, was named the Marble Valley League C division coach of the year. “Were gonna have to play a little bit better defensively,” said Hayford. “I think Oscar Smith played a great game, he was like a rock back there and we’re going to need a solid defensive effort against Proctor’s strikers.”
“This is a special group,” continued Hayford. “They’re great sportsmen and they’re a team, not a group of individuals, and they’re all unselfish. It’s time to go get it, and this group won’t be happy until it’s done. We’ve got to finish this deal and these kids, they want it so bad.
“From the moment they walked off the field in South Royalton last year, we knew we’d be back and we’re back and now we need to finish the deal.”