Top-ranked Troy regroups to cruise past Royal Oak and reach district finals
BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
TROY — In uncharacteristic fashion, Troy yielded a quick goal by Royal Oak in the opening minutes Tuesday night.
Instead of folding into panic mode, the 1-0 deficit helped awaken a giant monster.
Troy outscored Royal Oak 5-1 over the final 78 minutes of the Division 1 district semifinal at Troy Athens and the Colts walked away with a 5-2 state tournament victory.
Troy (17-1-0) has now outscored its two state tournament foes 15-2 and outscored its 18 opponents 60-11 for the entire season. The Colts also carry a five-game win streak into Thursday’s district finals since dropping a 2-1 contest to Troy Athens on Sept. 29.
Awaiting Troy is seventh-ranked Berkley, which will be making its ninth appearance in the district finals over the last 11 years. The Bears held off fifth-ranked Athens 2-1 in the first game Tuesday.
Remaining poised following a rare deficit helped the Colts to rally for the win and control play.
“I’m proud of the response after the (Royal Oak) goals,” said Troy coach Jim Stachura. “So they scored a goal, we came down and scored a goal, and then we took control of the game. We got ourselves a lead. I emptied the bench. We gave up a bad ball, and they scored another goal. And we respond less than a minute later with another goal. At the end of the day, I’m proud of my guys for the effort. At this time, you’re just taking it one at a time, and now we’ll get ready for Berkley.”
Troy’s dynamic duo of Nick Worrell and John Palomino up top wreaked havoc all night on Royal Oak, which trailed 2-1 at the half and fell behind 3-1 midway through the second half. Worrell scored the first two goals and Palamino drew two assists on the night behind Troy’s relentless attack.
More importantly, following both of Royal Oak’s goals the Colts had the quick answer.
Royal Oak (12-5-2) caught Troy napping to start the game, as the Ravens scored just 1:29 into the contest. Kai Sotomayor was near the right post to cash in a rebound after Troy goalkeeper George Hildebrandt got a hand on the first shot.
Troy – which has amassed a 35-2-4 record the past two years that includes back-to-back OAA Red Division championships – struck back with 36:24 still to go in the opening half. Palamino placed a through ball in tight space to Worrell, who fired a shot inside the left post from 23 yards out.
The Colts continued to swarm the Ravens net for the rest of the half -- where they outshot the Ravens 11-3 -- and the persistence paid off with 2:00 to go. A wide-open Worrell lit up the scoreboard again off another Palamino pass, this time with a close-range shot for the 2-1 halftime lead.
Sophomore Clay Cusmano scored what proved to be the game-winner with 22:38 remaining in the contest, converting a feed from Worrell for the 3-1 lead.
Royal Oak made things interesting by trimming the deficit down to 3-2 with another goal by Sotomayor, who banged home a breakaway goal with 11:38 to go. It was the Ravens’ first shot of the second half.
The Colts’ empire struck back only 19 seconds later when senior Noah Yee netted the fourth goal off a pass from Cusmano.
The same combo united once again for the fifth goal with 7:34 remaining, as Yee corralled a feed from Cusmano and laced a 15-yard shot into the net to cap the scoring.
Troy dominated throughout despite yielding two goals to an opponent for just the third time all season. The Colts outshot Royal Oak by a wide 26-5 margin, including 14-5 with shots on frame, and even held a 3-0 advantage on cornerkicks.
The Ravens did put some temporary scare into the Colts just weeks before Halloween, but not enough to derail a team that reached the Division 1 regional finals last season and has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the polls all season.
“I’m proud of them,” offered Royal Oak coach Mike Thomas. “When we got to 2-1, I was going, ‘We’re scaring these guys.’ Even on that last one, when we got to 3-2, there was still hope because of what we did to U-D (Jesuit in the pre-district, rallying back for a 4-3 win). I thought, okay, we’re going to come back. We’re going to get another one. But Troy is very good with a lot of weapons.”
Troy will face Berkley at 7 p.m. Thursday for the district title. Berkley (20-2-1) reached the regional finals two years ago and has allowed only eight goals in 23 games this season.
The Colts edged the Bears 1-0 on a late goal back on Sept. 8.
“They’re solid, especially defensively. Giving up only eight goals all season shows you that are very organized in the back and play very good defense. When we beat them early in the season we scored off a deflection in a very even game,” noted Stachura. “Offensively, Andriy Bilous is very dangerous player for them and they have a couple of others that can score. We’ll need to play a better all-around game to beat them a second time.
“Knowing how both teams play, there won’t be any surprises,” continued Stachura. “We both know each other very well. I expect it will be a very tight game with Berkley. Those games in recent years are normally close.”