One goal enough in HB’s semifinal win over Pembroke

When Cole Owens first saw the cross from Jack Barbour, he thought his teammate put too much on the ball.

But then Owens, a junior for the Hollis Brookline High School boys soccer team, looked to his left and saw Johnny O’Neil flying through the air. The ball hit O’Neil’s head as he lay parallel to the ground and was just high enough to get over Pembroke Academy keeper Robert Trujillo.

When the ball hit the back of the net, the second-seeded Cavaliers celebrated and Owens knew that would be enough.

It was, as HB held on for a 1-0 win over No. 3 Pembroke in the Division II semifinals at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter. The win sends the Cavs (16-2) to the championship game for the second-straight year, where they’ll face either No. 1 Windham or No. 4 Oyster River on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

The goal came on the Cavs’ only real chance of the second half, as the Spartans (15-3-1) dominated possession for most of the final 40 minutes. But HB’s defense was able to clamp down, much like Pembroke was doing on the other end to Owens.

“Every game, there are adjustments that are made on (Owens) and the beauty of it is, the adjustment they made opened so much space for Johnny to come in and finish that,” HB coach Rick Carvalho said. “I guess they contained Cole in a way that his name is not going to end up the score sheet. The impact of that was a brilliant finish from Johnny. It’s his first goal of the season. It’s a great moment for him.”

O’Neil knew as soon as Barbour hit the ball, he was going to have to lay out to get a piece of it.

“As I saw Jack look up, I looked him in the eyes,” O’Neil said. “He crossed it and I knew I had to dive for it no matter what. I was ready to dive and score, I wanted it so bad. I don’t think I was running with enough speed to get a foot on it, so I just threw my body at it.

“I hit it with the top of my head and was looking up. I saw it float in and I was like ‘oh my.’ I was in so much shock.”

Owens, standing in the middle of the box, between the two, had a perfect view of the whole play.

“I was watching the cross come over and I thought ‘oh, Jack, come on,’ because I thought it was going to me,” Owens said. “Then Johnny just came in, and it was perfect. I thought it was going to go right over the bar, but it got in.”

The Cavs needed it. After an evenly played first half, Pembroke was able to choke off any upfield rush HB put together and often times, the Spartans turned it into a rush of their own.

Pembroke’s best chance came just minutes before O’Neil’s goal, when Austin Sartwell broke in alone on HB goalie Michael Pattelena. The Cavs keeper came out to challenge and Sartwell was able to tip a shot over Pattelena as he slide for the ball, but the shot went wide to the nearside.

“They had the ball in our half for most of the game,” Owens said. “I knew if we got a goal, we would win and get in their heads and that’s what happened.”

Carvalho told his players that at halftime, that one of them would have to step up.

“We talked at halftime about who wants to shine the brightest under the lights and (O’Neil) answered that question in spades,” Carvalho said. “I’ve had about six conversations with him to stop with all the flicks and stop with the pretty stuff and just play. I guess we’ll take some of the pretty stuff.”