Kenny Vincent, left, and Zak Balazovic from Royal Oak are surrounded by Berkley players, including No. 2 Eurick Crayton, during Monday night’s match. The Ravens won, 2-1. [TOM WATTS/For The Daily Tribune]
Soccer - Boys
BOYS SOCCER: Royal Oak hangs on to first-half lead to defeat Berkley
BERKLEY – A boisterous crowd at Hurley Field was rewarded on Monday by a physical and entertaining game as Royal Oak held on for a dramatic 2-1 victory over Berkley in an Oakland Activities Association crossover match pitting programs not fond of each other.
As energized students from both schools exchanged chants throughout the night, it was the Ravens (4-1 overall) who jumped out to a 2-0 lead at halftime and held on for nail-biting victory.
“It was a big win for us over our crosstown rivals,” Royal Oak senior goalkeeper Joey Smith said Monday. “It made it an even bigger game when we came out strong and scored first.”
Royal Oak senior Kenny Vincent scored on a penalty kick at 24:18 of the first half to give the Ravens a 1-0 lead.
“The first 10 minutes of each half we want them to come out flying,” Royal Oak coach Colby Cunningham said Monday. “We set the tone with the first goal of the game.”
The Ravens went on top 2-0 at 20:35 when junior Greg Alexopoulous took a nice pass in the box from junior Joey Dokho and drilled a shot past Berkley sophomore goalkeeper Julian Fetterman.
“Once we got a lead we relaxed a little,” Smith said. “I had to pull off a couple saves to keep them (Berkley) from scoring.”
Led by senior midfielder Bailey Harris, the Ravens controlled the ball in the first half as senior forward Zak Balazovic and Dokho played inspired all night.
“It was a hyped up game,” Harris said Monday. “But we kept winning balls and had to really dig deep when Joey (Smith) went out.”
Berkley (7-4-1 overall) cut the lead to 2-1 with 8:58 left in the game when senior McGregor Hanna scored in the box to set off a wild celebration in the stands.
McGregor beat Royal Oak freshman backup goalkeeper Tommy Pagen, who replaced Smith after Smith was issued a red card with 17:33 left when he came out of the box and didn’t play the ball. A free kick was issued to the Bears from 20 yards out, but senior forward Eric Towns missed the shot high over the goalpost with the Ravens leading 2-0 at the time.
“The boys had to step up when Joey (Smith) went out,” Cunningham said. “That was a big loss and we had to really step up.”
Berkley, who plays in the ultra-competitive Oakland Activities Association Red Division after winning the OAA White Division last season, had the momentum in the second half.
But the Bears could not get the equalizer against the freshman Pagen.
“When Joey came out we really had to get behind the freshman,” Harris noted. “We know he (Pagen) doesn’t even play goal, so we had to play even harder.”
Royal Oak, who plays in the OAA Blue Division, had their best first half of the season against a top tier soccer program. The Ravens, who only loss was 2-0 to No. 2 ranked Troy Athens, utilized the brilliant goalkeeping of Smith, who made seven saves in the first half, including one stop off a free kick from 20 yards out with 5:38 left before halftime.
Smith, who has been bothered this year by a hip flexor, went high to block the bending shot out of bound, but landed awkwardly and had the wind knocked out of him for about a minute. His Royal Oak teammates surrounded him, picked Smith up off the ground and the senior keeper stayed in the game.
“I’m shaking I’m so excited,” said Smith, who must sit out today’s match with Farmington Hills Harrison. “Our defense just really played good in front of Tommy (Pagen).”
Despite allowing two goals, Fetterman had a solid game in goal for the Bears. Also, Towns, senior midfielder Stepp Mayes and midfielder Eurick Crayton were around the ball all night offensively.
However, in the second half, Mayes was taken off the field on a golf cart after a collision with Royal Oak senior defender Alex Kokesh. Mayes landed on his arm and was taken to the hospital where Berkley head coach Steve Wloszek said he was going after the game.
“Royal Oak played really well; a lot of pressure on the ball,” Berkley assistant coach Matt Brzezinski said Monday outside a dejected Bears locker room. “Tactically and physically they played really well.
“You look at the first half and we took some play off,” he continued. “We stressed at halftime to play a full 40 minutes.”
Although the Bears controlled the tempo in the second half, Royal Oak’s defense was up to the challenge led by brothers Ben Huber, a sophomore, and Christian Huber, a senior. The Ravens also utilized the splendid play of defenders TJ Bowdon, Ben Silvi and Kokesh, who each played strong games for the visitors.
Of note, an obvious off-sides call at the 24-minute mark of the second half negated a goal by Berkley’s Eric Braun. The Bears’ Towns missed a tap-in goal when he kicked it high over the goalpost with 11:50 left to play.
The Bears just could not convert on their opportunities despite making the right halftime adjustments to get back into the game.
“I thought our kids played really, really well,” Brzezinski said. “Our goalkeeper (Fetterrman) played well. I thought Stepp played well before he was injured.”
Royal Oak hosts Farmington Hills Harrison today.
“I’m happy with the win,” Cunningham said. “It was a physical game. We have three games this week and it’s a big test. There are always things to work on, and tomorrow’s a new day.”