Two school busloads of fans accompanied LaBelle’s boys soccer team to the latest stop on its surreal, sentimental postseason journey Tuesday night.
But the Cowboys’ offense never found its way into Berkeley Prep’s gated campus.
Overwhelmed by the Buccaneers’ deft ball control, the Cowboys watched the greatest season in program history end with a 2-0 loss in the Region 2A finals.
“That’s a heck of a team,” said Cowboys coach Jef Frost, whose squad lost for the first time since Dec. 22. “I wish we could do half of what they do.”
Buoyed by roughly 250 fans that made the 313-mile round-trip journey, the Cowboys were forced to pack their defense in the second half in the face of Berkeley’s relentless runs. LaBelle (18-5-4) managed only three shots to Berkeley’s 16.
“They had the sweeper almost on their box the whole time so we could really go at them this game and play our game, which is possession,” said Berkeley midfielder Tyler Sacone, who had the Buccaneers’ second goal with seven minutes to play. “That really tore them apart on the field.”
LaBelle’s closest shot at the back of the net came in the 69th minute, when junior Jesus Karr’s 25-yard blast was nicked by the outstretched hands of keeper Ben Milliken and hit the crossbar. Nine minutes earlier, Berkeley had taken a 1-0 lead when Warren Backman left-footed a deflected corner kick from the top of the 18-yard box.
“We went with more a defensive mode (after halftime),” Frost said.
“I kind of hoped maybe we’d get to the overtime and PKs or something and who knows? … We didn’t lose it on the formation, it was the loose ball on the corner kick. We just didn’t clean up a dirty ball.”
And so ended an improbable season in which triumph was forged in part by tribulation. Within roughly six weeks of each other, LaBelle senior and team fan Ryan Hellard and local travel-ball coach Pedro Ramirez died in car accidents.
“I was hoping maybe we’d make the (district) championship game. But to win it and then to go as far as we have here with regionals, is just phenomenal,” Frost said. “It’s sad to say, but the adversity I think really helped bring the team together because we all shared in the grief and that’s a special kind of bonding you can’t replace.”