Prep soccer: Hebron extends streak with NEPSAC quarterfinal win over Pingree

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HEBRON — Hebron Academy has celebrated a lot of wins with the traditional ringing of the Victory Bell in recent years, but Justin Bell made sure Wednesday wouldn’t be the first time the Lumberjacks would have to do it by flashlight. 

Bell’s sunset goal in the sixth round of penalty kicks gave top-seeded Hebron a dramatic 2-1 win over No. 8 Pingree School of South Hamilton, MA at Allen Field in the New England Prepatory School Athletic Council Class C quarterfinals.

The win made it 29 consecutive games without a loss for the defending champions, who will face Beaver Country Day School of Chestnut Hill, MA in the semifinals on Saturday. Time and location of the game have not been announced. 

Pingree ends its season 12-7-0.

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After emerging from two five-minute sudden death overtime sessions still knotted 1-1, Hebron (15-0-2) briefly gained the upper hand after the second round of the best-of-five penalty kicks following conversions by leadoff kickers Michael Tahiru of Hebron and Pingree’s Jake Spaulding.

Freddie Hohmann gave the Lumberjacks a 2-1 edge with a ball to the right corner past Pingree goalkeeper Conor Whalen (12 saves). Jacob Rucker’s bid to tie it hit off the face of the crossbar and, after a high bounce, into the arms of Hebron goalkeeper Keith Mank (five saves).

“I had to get up real fast because if it does go in the net (off the bounce) it still counts,” said Mank, a junior from Raymond. “It’s hard when you’ve only done it in practice all year. You’ve got these shooters coming at you and they’re shooting hard and you’ve got a split-second to decide.”

Luck abandoned Hebron in the third round, however, as Tyler Swanbeck’s shot hit the bottom of the left post. That allowed the Highlanders’ Oliver Pinyochon to tie it, 2-2,  with a low laser past Mank as he dove to his left.

Christian Quinones of Bangor got Hebron back on track by beating Pingree goalie Conor Whalen to the lower right corner, and Brian Ross’ attempt to tie it again for Pingree sailed high over the crossbar.

That left it to Bell, the Lumberjacks’ leading scorer, to clinch it, which he did with a rocket into the upper right corner.

“I took it upon myself to just put it on me and put the team on my shoulders,” said Bell, a senior striker from Hamilton, Bermuda. “I’m relatively confident, so when I stepped up to the ball, I knew what I wanted to do. I just treated it like I do in practice, my same routine, and fortunately enough, by God’s grace, I put it in the back of the net.”

The Lumberjacks outshot the Highlanders, 28-8 and had a similar ratio of quality chances, especially in the first half. One particularly frustrating sequence saw a bid by Tahiru hit off the left post after being partially blocked by a Pingree defender. On the subsequent corner kick, Hohmann’s header virtually grazed the top of the crossbar. Bell had a bid of his own go off the crossbar just before intermission.

“We were rushing a lot of times,” Bell said. “If we were to just stay composed, stay compact and stay comfortable in how we usually play, we would definitely put away some chances. I missed some chances I should have put away in the first half.”

Whalen denied Tahiru twice with diving stops early in the first half before Bell finally broke the scoreless tie with 24:03 left in regulation by carrying into the box and tucking his shot from about 15 yards just inside the left post.

“I’m a good dribbler, so I used my one-on-one instincts when I got close to my man, and I saw that the goalkeeper was a little bit off to the center and I just tried to hit it as hard as I could to the bottom corner,” Bell said. 

Pingree tied it when Rucker headed in a cross to the far post with 8:35 remaining. 

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