EXETER – Tyler Smith had already been stung once by a sudden-death overtime playoff loss. The Pembroke Academy boys’ soccer junior goalie was in no mood to experience another.
After 100 minutes of scoreless soccer on Wednesday night, Smith came up with a big save and teammate Josh Dion scored the game-winner as the second-seeded Spartans advanced to the Division II championship game with a 4-2 penalty-kick shootout win over No. 3 Bow at Exeter’s Bill Ball Stadium.
“I kept going back to last year’s loss,” said Smith, referring to a heartbreaking semifinal defeat in overtime to Goffstown. “I was trying not to show it, but I definitely felt it.”
Pembroke will play in its first final under Coach Peter Bisson on Saturday at 4 p.m., when it takes on No. 1 Windham – a 4-0 winner over No. 13 Goffstown – at Southern New Hampshire University.
Pembroke won both regular-season meetings over Bow by scores of 1-0 and 2-1.
“We knew it was going (to) come down to who scored that goal,” Bisson said about Wednesday’s game. “It turned out to be nobody. That’s what we expected. We knew we had to be pretty perfect to win.”
Dion went low to sneak his PK shot past Bow goalie Joseph Rychwalski in the fifth round of the shootout to clinch the win.
“I was really stressed about it, but once I got up there, I knew where I was going,” Dion said.
Damon Smith, Justin Smith and Cameron Rivard also scored in the shootout for Pembroke. For Bow, William Russo and Max Elsasser converted their PKs.
Dion, who was a blur of offensive danger for most of Wednesday’s game, just as he was in the first meeting between the teams on Sept. 1 (a 1-0 Pembroke win), went down with an injury to his right ankle in the final minute of the first overtime and was helped off the field. With the ankle heavily taped, he returned early in the second overtime.
“It’s going to be sore tomorrow,” Dion said. “I knew I was going to get back in there.”
While most of the scoring opportunities in regulation – and chances to put the game away in overtime – belonged to the Spartans, both teams came close.
For Pembroke, Matt Ferguson saw a couple of shots turned away by Rychwalski in overtime, while Dion had a shot from the left wing blocked midway through the first extra frame. For the Falcons, Elsasser had a clear look at the goal from short range early in the second OT but saw his shot go just wide. As the game’s final whistle blew in overtime, Bow’s Christopher Besho unleashed a shot that cleared the crossbar.
“We were back on our heels,” Bow Coach George Pinkham said. “It was (Pembroke’s) game, really, to win. (I) think this is the year they’re looking at a championship. This is their year.”
Early in the second half of regulation, Pembroke’s Ferguson couldn’t get a foot on an excellent through ball from Dion right inside the box. Midway through the second half, Damon Smith worked his way through the Bow defense for a clear look, only to see his shot blocked by Rychwalski.
Pinkham made it clear after the game he does not feel penalty kicks are a sufficient way to settle ties in tournament games.
“I’ve got a couple of kids, both seniors, feeling they really let the team down,” Pinkham said. “They didn’t.”