It’s still an unbeaten streak, but the Warwick Vets boys’ soccer team was hoping Friday’s game would be the continuation of a winning streak. Facing Johnston, the Hurricanes broke a scoreless tie early in the second half but gave up a late goal and settled for a 1-1 draw.
For a squad that’s looking to break out of the middle of the pack in Division III, it wasn’t the happiest ending.
“That’s what happens when you let a team hang around,” said Vets head coach Mike Kenney. “We didn’t lose it but we don’t have a great taste in our mouth after this one. Any point is a big point.”
The ’Canes had won three straight coming into Friday’s game and would have inched closer to fourth place with a victory. Instead, they remain in fifth, two points back of Cranston East.
“We’re middle of the pack and we’re trying to get out of that,” Kenney said. “We’ve got to put some other teams away to do that. It’s tough to do because there are four teams ahead of us and two teams have already beat us. We want to try to get in the top four for a bye but we’ve got to win the games we’re supposed to win.”
Friday’s game was one of those. Johnston came in with a 1-6-1 record and had lost two straight. Still, the Panthers are a veteran squad and five of their six losses were by two goals or fewer.
“We came out flat and Johnston is playing with nine seniors,” Kenney said. “They might not have the best record in the world but they’re not little kids either. They battled. I give them a lot of credit. They battled that whole game, they didn’t give up.”
The ’Canes had an edge in possession in the first half but couldn’t generate their typical chances. They did take five corners in the half but came up empty on all of them.
Johnston’s defense was led by senior Kervin Hernandez, one of the top players in the division who has recently moved from forward to shore up the back line.
“He has to take a hit,” said Johnston head coach Dan Mazzulla. “He runs the whole team. He’s a great player. He’s doing a great job. We’ve got nothing to lose right now.”
And despite the focus on defense, the Panthers made several offensive pushes of their own in the first half. Thankfully for Vets, goalie Mike Riccitelli was there to keep the Panthers off the board. Riccitelli leaped to tip away a free kick by Hernandez in the 30th minute and grabbed a header off a corner kick late in the half.
“Mike played out of his mind,” Kenney said. “They owe him dinner. He kept us in that game with a few beautiful saves.”
Riccitelli was pressed into action again early in the second half, making a jumping save and then stopping a free kick. Soon after, the Hurricanes broke through when Nikone Soupharath took a pass from Justin Batista and buried a shot from the top of the box.
From there, the ’Canes dominated the action and had several solid opportunities. When they failed to convert, it left the door open for the Panthers.
In the 69th minute, they stepped through. A foul deep in the Vets end set up free kick from the left side. Hernandez took it and placed the ball to the near post, where Chad LaForge touched it in.
“We gave up a foul down in our end and they converted,” Kenney said. “We could have had a few more goals and it came back to bite us.”
The ’Canes put five shots on net in the final 11 minutes but came up empty and the game ended in the draw.
“That’s how we’ve been getting beat all year,” Mazzulla said. “We’ve been doing the scoring and the other teams have been getting the late goals. We needed that. We deserved it. As bad as things have been, they’ve been playing hard.”
Vets returns to action Wednesday when it hosts Ponaganset at 3:30 p.m.