The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders boys’ soccer team needed a win or a tie against the Westborough Rangers Wednesday at G-DRHS to clinch the Midland-Wachusett B Division championship and a top-four seed in the MIAA Division 1 Central tournament. They had reason to be confident, having already beaten Westborough 4-3 on the road earlier this season. But the Rangers scored two goals in the final 12 minutes to steal a 3-2 victory, as well as the league championship, and leave the tournament seedings a mystery.
Jake Pirdy found redemption after scoring an own goal early in the first half by scoring the game winner with under two minutes to play. In a 2-on-1 situation, Jameson Bradley went to Pirdy on the right wing, who got into the box and beat Crusader keeper Tyler Belanger with a grounder to the left to cue the celebration for the Westborough players and their fans.
“(Pirdy) split in between two defenders,” G-D head coach Sean Wisbey said.
“I said to my guys, ‘You’ve got to keep yourselves in front of (Pirdy and Bradley).’ When you’ve got six guys defending the last four minutes trying to keep the game tied, and you fail to do it, you don’t deserve to win.”
Pirdy’s own goal came in the fifth minute when Dean Tornaritis fired a shot that ricocheted off Westborough keeper Griffin Barry (nine saves) and back in off Pirdy.
The Rangers responded just two minutes later when Bradley scored his first of two goals in similar fashion. An initial shot was deflected in the box by a Crusader defender, but the rebound came right to Bradley, enabling him to bury it top shelf.
The Crusaders took the lead back in the 14th minute by navigating some choppy waters. Swarmed by Westborough defenders, Matt Straw found an opening to spring Mitch Wheeler, allowing him to get a dribbler past Barry to make it 2-1.
The Rangers pulled even again in the 69th minute in controversial fashion.
A corner kick led to lots of contact in the box by both teams, but the referees awarded a penalty kick to Westborough, despite the protests of the Crusaders. Bradley did the honors, and fired it into the upper right corner of the net.
“I thought we had control through the middle of the match,” Wisbey said.
“In the last twenty minutes, (Westborough) knew they had to win the game to win the league.”
Wisbey had high praise for Bradley, calling him Westborough’s best player and one of the best in the league.
With the Crusaders and Rangers finishing the season with identical 12-4-2 records, they will likely enter the sectional tournament as the no. 4 and 5 seeds. Wisbey knows that with 11 teams likely qualifying for sectionals, they would meet again next week in the quarterfinals. Which team gets home-field advantage for that game will be up to a coin flip.
“I have to look at the silver lining,” Wisbey said. “We didn’t get it today, but maybe it’s meant to be in the playoffs.”