HINESBURG – Top-seeded Champlain Valley has seized upon an unlikely formula for playoff success: One and done.
How does it work?
The Redhawks get a goal, their opponents don’t. It’s just as simple, as strange and as hair-raising as it sounds.
“It’s a scary situation to be in when that’s all that’s separating you from a tie or a loss,” said coach Katie Mack.
Then again, Champlain Valley seemed quite content after its most recent fright, a 1-0 win over No. 5 Mount Anthony in the Division I high school boys soccer semifinals Tuesday.
The victory, the Redhawks’ third in as many postseason games with that scoreline, sends them to Saturday’s state final against No. 3 Rice (15-2). And it’s all the sweeter for a 16-1 CVU team that had to replace seven starters from last year’s final four squad.
“We knew this entire year had to be a team effort and it has been from start to finish,” Mack said. “This tournament, where we’ve had a lot of 1-0 wins at this point, just goes to show they’ve got to work hard for 80 minutes.
“Everybody’s invested — kids on the bench, kids on the field, kids coming into the game — and I think that’s the major difference between this year and last year.”
In the playdowns, Cooper O’Connell bagged the Redhawks’ first-half goal to beat Spaulding. In the quarterfinals, Todd Boisjoli did the honors in a shutout of St. Johnsbury.
On Tuesday, the ball fell to junior back Joe Parento in the eighth minute. Bursting into the box on an overlapping run, Parento blasted a near-post shot into the roof of the net after a slick pass from Nate Coffin.
“For some reason we’re pretty good about putting it in the net in the first 20, so that’s sort of been a habit of ours,” CVU co-captain Will Yakibuk said. “But every game is different.
“All the players on the field are very capable of scoring, it’s not just one player. If you see who scores goals on the team, it’s spread out.”
The Redhawks didn’t lack for chances to pad the lead, either.
In the 19th minute, Coffin ran onto a low cross from Yakibuk in the right side of the penalty area but his attempt, slotted across the goal, caromed of the base of the left post. Four minutes later, Boisjoli’s rising blast from outside the top of the box forced an acrobatic save from MAU goalie Hunter Davis (seven saves).
Twice in the second half, Davis sprang off his line to deny CVU’s Tawn Tomasi in 1-on-1 chances and keep the Patriots (12-4-1) in the contest.
“He’s the real deal. He really came into himself and kept it a 1-0 game for sure,” MAU coach Mike Molloy said of his senior netminder. “They probably expected to score on a lot of those.”
Meanwhile, the Redhawks remained as tough to crack as they’ve been the entire year, with just four goals against entering the semifinals.
Freshman goalie Aidan Johnson’s lone save was just the fourth of the postseason.
“We knew going in that their defensive shape was going to be tough,” Molloy said. “I think we were figuring it out toward the end — I thought we were able to go wide and could we get that one ball in, could we get over the top?”
Carter Bentley’s attempt to head a ball served behind the CVU back line led to Johnson’s only save and sparked the Patriots’ renewed push in the final 20 minutes. But their set-piece chances never threatened with the precision needed to get one back.
Jack Peterson’s first-half header on a Garrett Derosia corner kick was perhaps Mount Anthony’s best chance of the day — and it bounced just wide of the left post.
“We didn’t take advantage of our corners and we didn’t take advantage of our direct kicks,” Molloy said. “We didn’t challenge them enough on either of those, and that’s something we worked on, we talked about.”
Yet, for all the uncertainty at the start of the season — key losses in midfield and attack, a rookie in net, and the always-grueling Metro Division gauntlet — the once-unheralded Redhawks are on their way to the program’s 31st title game.
“I felt people were like, ‘Oh, they lost all their good players, they’re not going to be good this year,'” Yakibuk said. “But from the start this was my intention and definitely everyone on the team shared that with me.”