Boys’ soccer: Pembroke spoils homecoming for the Pride, snags 4-3 win to keep playoff hopes alive

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 10-01-2023 1:13 PM

PENACOOK – Not much has broken Pembroke’s way so far this season, and for the first seven minutes of play on Saturday morning, it looked to be much of the same. Playing on Merrimack Valley’s homecoming, the Spartans quickly found themselves in a 2-0 hole after goals from MV’s Joey Olivera and Andrew Surprenant. A sense of “here we go again” seemed to set in.

While Pembroke (3-6-1) found the back of the net about three minutes later on a goal from Colby Pepka, MV (6-4-1) quickly responded with another goal from Surprenant on a scramble in front of the net to make it 3-1. Pepka scored again on a penalty shot to narrow the score to 3-2 at half.

In the 43rd minute, Pepka scored once more on a penalty shot to tie the game at 3-3, and in the 63rd minute, Cam Clarke buried a shot off a pass from Jacob Hanson to give Pembroke a 4-3 lead that it never relinquished.

For a team that entered Saturday just 2-6-1, not far removed from a five-game losing streak that saw the Spartans outscored 13-1, the victory was Pembroke’s second in a row and provides some hope that it can turn the corner over its final six games of the regular season.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s affair:

Saturday reflects a culmination of progress

Although the scoreboard hasn’t always reflected improvement, head coach Drou Goff said the last four games have been the best his team has executed the game plan all season. From a 3-0 loss to Hollis-Brookline and a 1-0 loss to Bow to a 5-0 win over Trinity and Saturday’s victory, the group’s confidence has continued to build, even though slow starts have still been an issue.

“The confidence is slowly rising with them, which is key,” Goff said after Saturday’s win. “And they’re noticing it. They’re seeing those improvements and that’s what’s motivating them right now.”

Particularly motivating on Saturday was the play of Hanson, a sophomore midfielder, who drew both whistles that led to penalty shots and assisted on the Spartans’ game-winning goal.

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“He’s got a ton of energy. Great personality. It’s just a matter of keeping it in control,” Goff said. “He flies all over the place. Very technical player. It’s just a matter of directing that emotion and energy in the right direction and keeping it focused on what you need.”

Goff hopes momentum can help position his team for a playoff berth

As someone who played at Pembroke and has followed the program the last few years, Goff knows well about the group’s struggles. Last season, the team finished 3-12-1, and the current senior class has never played in a playoff game. Though there’s still lots more work to do, Goff hopes that the team continues to win games to give the six-player class that opportunity.

“It’d be huge for the seniors,” Goff said. “They’ve never played in a playoff game, so that’s our goal and what’s motivating a lot of guys on the team is trying to get that for them for their last year.”

The Spartans’ next test will come on Monday against Coe-Brown, a team that sits at 7-3 on the season. Goff knows the journey ahead will be a challenge, but if these last few games are any indication, perhaps things are starting to turn for the better.

“The last four games have been a bright spot for us, so as long as it continues, that’s the hope: Getting points in every game and then making the playoffs, and then anything can happen at that point,” he said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Uneven stretch continues for the Pride

After starting the season 6-2, MV’s gone 0-2-1 over the last three games. The first loss and tie – at Bow and at Plymouth – were a bit more understandable with the Falcons and Bobcats occupying playoff spots. But Saturday’s loss, after having a 2-0 lead a little over six minutes in, stings a bit more.

Despite a strong day from Surprenant who scored two of the Pride’s three goals, the offense turned dormant in the second half, unable to respond after Pembroke scored its two goals to take the lead.

The Pride will look to turn its fortunes around on Tuesday when it hosts Sanborn at home, a team that’s yet to win a game this season.

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