FARMINGDALE — There might have been ways for Monmouth to beat Hall-Dale in the Class C West boys’ soccer quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon, but allowing the Bulldogs to score first wasn’t one of them.
One goal led to another, all of which allowed No. 3 Hall-Dale to settle in and impose its defensive will and grind out a 3-1 victory.
“It’s the key to our system,” Hall-Dale coach Andy Haskell explained. “Once we get the lead, it’s very hard to come back and score against us.”
Ryan Sinclair connected in the ninth minute of the game. Nat Crocker’s penalty kick with 5:43 remaining in the first half furnished MVC champion Hall-Dale (14-1) a 2-0 lead.
No. 6 Monmouth (10-5) scored only the sixth goal against the hosts all season when Hunter Richardson finished off Chandler Harris’ direct kick with 24:13 left.
The Mustangs’ heightened pressure couldn’t produce the equalizer, however, and left the defensive end vulnerable. Crocker’s second goal sealed it.
“Two-nothing is always the hardest lead to keep, because once they score one, they have the momentum,” Crocker said. “Once that goal went in, their momentum was done, and we just carried it through to the end of the game.”
Hall-Dale will face the Mountain Valley-Carrabec winner in Friday’s semifinals.
“They’re a good team. They’re well-coached and they were well prepared for us,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “They do such a good job of clogging the middle. It really makes it difficult. If you don’t get a good first touch, you’re in trouble.”
The Bulldogs jumped out early when Tyler Dubois pounced on a free ball in Monmouth’s defensive end and threaded the needle to Sinclair.
“In the first 10 minutes, that’s always big,” Sinclair said. “It was a good ball from Tyler, perfectly placed between the last defender and the goalie.”
Crocker earned Hall-Dale’s second scoring opportunity when he was tripped up by Ben Bolstridge just inside the scoring box.
His penalty boot eluded goalkeeper Kasey Smith’s diving stab.
“The win from our Mountain Valley championship definitely carried over to this game,” Crocker said. “We’re a lot more comfortable on our field. We all brought our mojo, as we like to say. We talk about setting the tone, and that’s definitely what we did today.”
Monmouth’s striker Richardson battled a deep thigh bruise in the second half, but he was strong enough to finish a still-ball sequence and get the Mustangs back in the game.
Hall-Dale’s defense got a foot on Harris’ initial offering. When the Bulldogs failed to clear it, Richardson pounced.
“We’ve worked for two weeks on restarts,” Fletcher said. “We had a restart that worked, and I thought if we kept pushing the envelope, we might get another one. It didn’t work out.”
It was Hall-Dale which enjoyed most of the ensuing chances at a goal.
Dubois hit the post, and Crocker’s try off a direct kick trickled just wide left of Smith (12 saves).
Crocker collected the insurance goal with 7:11 to go when he got to a loose ball just ahead of Smith and another converging Monmouth defender.
“I knew they were going to have to bring guys forward, and if we could get ourselves in a one-on-one situation on their back line against Crocker, we’d get that third goal,” Haskell said.
Nate Mills supplied most of the defensive resistance against Richardson. Brian Allen made seven saves for the Bulldogs.
“I don’t remember the last time we let up two goals,” Sinclair said. “I have all the confidence in our defense.”