Highlanders’ Late Score Gives Searson First Win As Coach

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Pictured: Caden Hetrick-Rivera (left) rifles a shot from close range past Hale-Ray’s keeper for the only score of Thursday’s Shoreline Conference match in Portland.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

PORTLAND – It took Portland two matches and the first 72 minutes of a third to give coach Mike Searson his first win as head of the program.

Searson didn’t much mind the wait.

Caden Hetrick-Rivera buried a free ball from close range late in Thursday’s Shoreline Conference match, giving Portland a 1-0 victory over Hale-Ray. The junior’s late score clearly meant a lot to Searson, who was a varsity assistant the previous three seasons before being elevated to succeed James Stotler.

“With him, he knows all of our guys and our weaknesses and strengths. I think he’s fit in perfectly as our coach,” said Hetrick-Rivera, a junior. “I like how he pushes us. I don’t think (Portland) could have picked a better person. He makes us better than we are.”

Goalie Zach Doncet saved the Highlanders a bunch of times and Portland scored late for a 1-0 win over Hale-Ray.

Searson inherited a team that won seven times in the 2019 regular season. The Highlanders went on to their first-ever win in the Shoreline tournament and they also won a game in the Class S tournament, creating momentum ahead of what is now an 11-game, pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

And with 11 seniors on this fall’s roster, Searson has a team that wants to take last year’s achievement to another level.

The Highlanders (1-1-1) lost their opener to H-K and played a very good Old Lyme team to a 2-2 draw on Monday.

“I think when you’re going through it and focusing on game 1 and game 2, you’re hoping it happens sooner,” he said of his/the team’s first win. “We knew coming out we had to get this first win, especially  going into next week (games against Valley Regional and Morgan). These guys knew they had to get three points. I’m happy to have it happen now and hopefully it gives us some confidence going into the Valley match.”

Portland controlled most of the play Thursday, but created few good scoring chances. Junior Brady Talerico had a clear look at the net, only to put the first-half shot off the crossbar. In the second half, Portland whiffed on what would have been an easy goal set up by Peter McNickle.

“I thought we had longer, more consistent ball movements today and that’s what we’ve really been trying to focus on,” Searson said. “That was definitely a positive thing. And the opposite of that, we have to have some composure on the net. We’ve gotta be better about finishing and not wasting those chances. There is something to build on with the possession and the stringing of passes, and something to work on with the finishing.”

On the defensive side, junior goalie Zach Doncet came away with three big saves in the first half to keep the Noises off the board. Four minutes into the second half, he stopped a shot while sliding to his left.

“I have a good problem with two solid keepers, but with a guy like Zach you just expect he’s going to make those saves,” said Searson, who was a four-year player at Saint Anselm in New Hampshire after graduating from Avon High School. “He just went out and he did his job. That save at the beginning of the second half was huge. He kept it 0-0 with a chance for us to win.”

After failing to cash in on several corner kicks in the first 25 minutes of the second half, Hetrick-Rivera was part of a swarm of Highlanders in front of the net when a scramble for the ball found his foot and he converted.

“It was an interesting goal,” he said. “It took a lot of work to get to that point.”

Portland has a four-game stretch coming up that includes Shoreline powers Valley, Morgan and Old Saybrook, and Searson hopes Thursday’s win provides a shot of momentum for the Highlanders.

“This is a good year to keep growing the program,” he said. “We have a good core group of guys and, especially after a little bit of success last year, they saw what we can do and what it takes to make the (Shoreline) tournament and get that win and get to the state tournament. It’s really building off of that and focusing on every game from the beginning, and every game giving ourselves chance. If we do that, we’ll come out with more wins than losses.”

Elsewhere around the county Thursday:

BOYS SOCCER

Cromwell 2, Westbrook 0
CROMWELL – Logan Fox scored in the first half and Chris Jordan convereted a penalty kick in the second half to give the Panthers their third straight Shoreline win to start the season.

Cromwell has shut out each of its opponents this season.

“The boys played well on their senior day,” coach Angelo Morello said. “What we pride ourselves on is our defense. Tyler Neves, Nick Garofalo, Aiden Snyder, Nick Beck and Colin McCarroll have been solid in front of goalie James Grodizicki.”

Westbrook fell to 0-3.

Old Lyme 4, Old Saybrook 1
OLD LYME — Avery Welch scored each of the Wildcats’ four goals – all in the first half.

Jonah Lathrop had 10 saves for Old Lyme, which remained unbeaten at 2-0-1.

Nick Rothman scored for the Rams (2-1) and keeper Will Peralta had nine saves.

East Hampton 3, Coginchaug 2
EAST HAMPTON – Jack Piper scored the game-winning goal from about 35 yards with 3:30 remaining to lift the Bellringers (2-1) to their second straight win in the Shoreline.

Justin Landon and Brennan Johnson also scored for East Hampton and keeper Drew DiStefano had four saves on eight shots.

PJ Casey-Leonard scored two unassisted goals for the Blue Devils (1-2). Coginchaug has allowed four goals within the last seven minutes of its matches this season.

Coginchaug keeper Dylan Zolnick had 10 saves on 27 East Hampton shots.

VOLLEYBALL

Old Lyme 3, North Branford 1 (13-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-19)
Abby Speckhals had 16 assists and 7 aces and Melanie Warren had 9 digs and 5 aces to pace the Wildcats to their second win in three matches.

FIELD HOCKEY

North Branford 5, Morgan 0
Olivia Toto had two goals and Kelli Jacobson, Keana Criscuolo and Sophia Anastasio also scored in the Thunderbirds’ win. Braeden Lebeau contributed two assists. Goalie Abbie Gordon had 15 saves for the Huskies.

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