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John Stark boys’ soccer team’s run of upsets ends in Division II semifinals

NASHUA – The run is finally done for the John Stark boys’ soccer team. The Generals got a pair of quality wins in the final week of the regular season just to make the tournament as the 14th and final team. Then they pulled off road upsets against No. 3 Goffstown and No. 11 Oyster River. But the giddy string of wins was broken yesterday in the Division II semifinals as No. 2 Windham claimed a 2-0 decision.

“We were playing well coming in, and we haven’t been shut out in a while, so that was a little surprising. We usually find a way to score goals,” Stark Coach Jeff Vogt said. “We just didn’t do it today.”

Windham deserves much of the credit. The Jaguars (15-3) took advantage of the true bounces from the artificial surface and the size of the field at Stellos Stadium to possess the ball for long stretches, both creating chances for themselves and not giving the Generals the chance to generate any attack. Windham also didn’t pay any attention to the No. 14 seed attached to Stark (9-10).

“There’s been parity in the league all the way through. The difference between the top four and the bottom four in the playoffs, there’s really not that much space,” Windham Coach Michael Hachey said. “A lot of people contacted me and said, ‘Your path is going to be easier,’ and I looked at it and thought, possibly not. You’re playing a much more emotional team, a team that’s trying to prove a point, and as soon as you lay back and think you’re going to have an easier path, then you’re probably going to have a harder time.”

The Jaguars played like they were ready for a hard time right from the start. They put five shots on Stark keeper Mike Prindiville (12 saves) in the first 15 minutes and finished the first half leading 6-2 in shots on goal and 12-2 in total shots. It took some time for all that pressure to translate into a score, but it finally happened with 13:16 left in the first half. That’s when Chris Ulbrich took a free kick from 20 yards out and snuck it around the edge of the wall and just inside the far post for a 1-0 Windham lead.

Despite the score and the fact that the Jaguars controlled the opening 40 minutes, the Generals were upbeat during halftime.

“The boys were saying we’re down a goal, but we’ve been here before,” Vogt said. “We did it against Con-Val (in the must-win regular-season finale), we came back twice against Oyster River (in a 3-2 quarterfinal win), so we had been there before, we had done it, and they felt confident they could do it, we just needed one to go in.”

But whenever the Generals managed to move the ball into the Windham end, the possession would break down before they could find their leading scorer, Josh Morin, or anyone else for that matter.

“I think they did a good job of muscling (Morin) off the ball where usually he can get a step on people,” Vogt said. “And I think we were a little off today with our passing and trying to find people. Generally we were just putting it to (Windham’s) feet instead of finding a good space.”

Windham’s second goal came with 31:29 left in the second half on the end of a beautiful run from Alex Whitehead, who dribbled through the heart of the Stark defense and finished it off himself for the 2-0 lead. And the Jaguars safely and calmly possessed the ball and killed clock for most of the remaining time.

Stark’s season may have ended one game short of Sunday’s championship, but it still finished with a flourish and set the table for next year’s team.

“We had a great group of seniors. They were great leaders, they worked hard in practice, they got the kids together, they made it a close team. ... They showed what the team should be doing next year,” Vogt said. “And we’ll miss those seniors, but we have a solid group coming back.”

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