Westboro’s Jack Ferrecchia, left, attempts to keep Billerica’s Devin Morrow from the ball during Thursday’s state tournament clash. (Aleah Landry photo)
BILLERICA — Billerica senior Amir Mahrez came through in the clutch, scoring the game-deciding goal, as the second seeded Billerica boys soccer team defeated No. 18 Westboro, 2-1, in penalty kicks in the second round of the MIAA Division 2 state tournament.
Billerica (18-1-1) advances to play No. 7 Melrose on Saturday at 5 p.m.
“It feels amazing,” said Billerica goalie Ryan Donovan. “It’s something you can only really dream of.”
Locked in a 1-1 stalemate, the game was settled in penalty kicks. Tied at 3-3, Mahrez made the most of his opportunity, scoring the deciding goal on their fifth and final attempt.
“Every single time at practice we know (Amir’s) going to crush it,” said Brian Jones. “Even before he shot it we knew it was going in. You’ve just got to pick a spot and put it away.”
Billerica came up big on penalty kicks with Ryan Jacob, Jack Jones and Brian Jones also scoring. Jason Xintaropoulos was stopped on a sprawling save on Billerica’s fourth attempt, leaving things temporarily tied. But the team kept its composure.
“We’ve practiced penalty kicks every day for about two weeks,” said Billerica coach John Vassallo. “Its something I have a lot of experience with. I’ve taken them for 50 years. The main thing is to practice it, be ready, figure out our order and go with it.”
Donovan showcased his nerves of steel throughout, stoning Westboro senior forward Sebastian Madrigal Mendoza on the team’s fifth and final attempt, setting the stage for Mahrez’s heroics. The senior defender left no doubt. netting the game-deciding shot for the win.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” said Donovan. “But you’ve got to stay confident. You’ve got to look like you know what you are doing, be intimidating and do whatever you’ve got to do.”
Westboro took advantage of some big bounces midway through the first half. Senior Chris Deane cashed in by scoring off a header, giving the Rangers the early advantage at 20:14.
Billerica maintained excellent offensive pressure in the opening stanza, but was unable to pot the equalizer, despite some quality chances created by Jacob and Xintaropoulos.
Donovan made a nice kick save off sophomore Ryan Payant with 13:30 remaining in the half. The Indians were held scoreless despite five corners, with Westboro holding the 1-0 lead at the intermission.
Billerica continued to chip away in the second stanza, before Brian Jones tied the contest, scoring off a header with 18:35 to play.
“It was a long ball into the box,” said Jones. “Amir headed it up and it was just bobbling. It came right to me.”
According to Vassallo, his team showed its iron-will resolve.
“We thought we had good opportunities in the first half,” said Vassallo. “We were unlucky a couple times. We just tried to push it as much as we can to get the equalizer. We were a man down too, and still scored. We gave the freedom to our center back forward and I thought (Mahrez) played a spectacular game.”