Coe-Brown edges Bow, ConVal ousts Pembroke in D-II boys’ soccer semifinals

  • Coe-Brown’s Lucciano Minasalli (11) and Bow’s Ryan Leonard (22) battle for a 50-50 ball. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Coe-Brown’s Lucciano Minasalli (11) attempts to flip the ball over Bow’s Ryan Leonard (22). Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Coe-Brown’s Ryan Whitcher (9) looks for a teammate in the open field. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Coe-Brown’s Ryan Whitcher (center) celebrates with teammates Jacob Radwan (left) and Patrick Bacon after scoring the only goal of their D-III boys’ soccer semifinal clash against Bow on Wednesday. Rich Miyara photos / NH Sports Photography

  • Coe-Brown’s Lucciano Minasalli (11) and Bow’s Ryan Leonard (22) battle for a 50-50 ball. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Bow’s goal keeper Joseph Rychwalski (1) punches the ball away from Coe-Brown’s Elijah Hinrichsen (5) and Bow’s Connor Wachsmuth (24). Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Bow’s forward Max Elsasser (33) is surrounded by Coe-Brown defenders. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Pembroke’s Cameron Rivard (8) heads the ball to a teammate in front of Conval’s Colby Knight (3). Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Pembroke’s Tyler Serafin (15) charges after a loose ball in the open field. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Conval’s Del Bonsu-Anane (22) celebrates with teammate Max Richards (5) after scoring the only goal of the game. Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Pembroke’s Hunter Kennedy (9) takes a shot on goal while being closely defended by Conval’s August Marshall (4). Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

  • Conval’s Colby Knight (3) controls the ball while avoiding a slide tackle by Pembroke’s Cameron Rivard (8). Rich Miyara / NH Sports Photography

Monitor staff
Published: 11/1/2018 12:21:27 AM

NASHUA – Ryan Whitcher didn’t get much on the first shot, but the rebound off Bow keeper Joe Rychwalski came right back to Whitcher, and the Coe-Brown senior had his chance at redemption.

“I was like, ‘Oh crap, this is the game right here,’ ” Whitcher said when asked what he was thinking when the ball came back to him. “Moments like this win games and you’ve just got to finish.”

Whitcher did just that, collecting himself and the ball before finishing with 17 minutes left in the first half of Wednesday’s Division II boys’ soccer semifinals. No. 3 Coe-Brown rode that goal to the end of a 1-0 win and a place in Saturday’s final against No. 1 ConVal, which posted a 1-0 win of its own against defending champion Pembroke Academy in the second semifinal at Stellos Stadium.

For the No. 7 Falcons (11-6-2), it’s their second straight loss in the semifinals. For the Bears (15-3-1), they will play in the school’s first boys’ soccer final since 2009 and just the fifth overall.

“It’s been a very long time … we were aware of that,” Coe-Brown senior captain Lucciano Minasalli said. “We just want to really change it for ourselves.”

Bow controlled the majority of the first half and looked ready to score in the 11th minute as Max Elsasser, Ryan Leonard and Matt Selleck applied dangerous pressure. The Bears survived that push and then took the lead in the 23rd minute.

Senior captain midfielder Ben Healey started the play from the top of the 18 as he flicked a pass to Cayden Donoghue, who took it to the endline and cut it back to Whitcher. It was eerily similar to the goal Coe-Brown scored against John Stark – Donoghue taking the end line and cutting it back to a waiting Whitcher – in its 1-0 quarterfinal win.

“Stark is a similar team to Bow in how they play and they’re both big in the back,” Bears coach Christian Gompert said. “So we knew that our way in was probably going to be wide and then get the ball across, which is just how it happened. That makes me sound, like, magical, but that’s how they worked it through there. It was a low cross and Ryan was able to put it away. Those two have been linking up really well all year and they’re dangerous, they’re very dangerous.”

The Falcons responded with more pressure for the final 17 minutes of the first half, but after halftime the game belonged to Coe-Brown.

“The first half was ours, the second half was theirs,” Bow coach George Pinkham said.

“In the first half we were just trying to get used to it,” Minasalli said. “Then in the second half, after the first 10 minutes, it seemed like everything was just clicking and exploding.”

Coe-Brown also made a formation change in the second half, moving Minasalli from the wing to the center of the pitch to play as a second holding midfielder next to Mason Winiarski. Gompert made that switch to help contain Elsasser, who was already being watched closely by a Coe-Brown defender.

“(Elsasser) was someone that we had man marked with our defender, Connor Fallon, he’s our go-to guy when we need someone locked down,” Whitcher said. “I praise that kid.”

Bow defenders Sean Miclette and Graham Weisberg, and keeper Rychwalski, did well to keep it a one-goal game in the second half, but the Falcons couldn’t maintain enough possession to truly threaten the Bears and keeper Hogan Cain (three saves).

“(Coe-Brown) deserved it, they didn’t just win it on a coin flip,” Pinkham said. “That was good stuff, strong and they took advantage … I’m not disappointed at all. Our effort was good, theirs was good and when you get together like that with two good teams, it’s going to be like that. I talked to (Gompert) at the beginning of the game and we looked at each other like, yeah, one-goal game.”

That one-goal win now gives Coe-Brown a chance to claim the first title in school history. During the season the Bears stayed focused on the moment and didn’t think about a championship, but now that a crown is in front of them, they can start to dream.

“Coach always says just take it one game at a time,” Minasalli said with a smile, “but we’re here now, so I guess now we have to worry about it.”

The team they’ll have to worry about is top-ranked ConVal, which got a first-half goal from Del Bonsu-Anane and some second-half luck to knock off Pembroke.

After starting slow in their semifinal win against Lebanon, the Cougars came out flying against the Spartans, who they knew were a dangerous team.

“We talked about it. The energy was really good in the warmup and we talked about okay, we can’t start the same way against a team like this and hope that we can win another game that way,” ConVal coach Josh Smith said. “So we talked about having urgency from the beginning and … the first 10 minutes were hot, so that’s what we had going.

“We knew coming in that (Pembroke senior Connor Manteau) up top was tough to handle, he’s fast, he can get in behind and finish. (Cam Rivard) in the middle is solid, (Tyler Serafin) is not afraid to hit shots form deep, and then (Andrew Valdes) wide, he’s really good. So they have people all over the field.”

The Spartans used that widespread talent to push back after ConVal controlled the first 10 minutes, but it was still the Cougars who found the first goal. Junior defender Zachary Kriebel started the play when he ripped a free kick from 35 yards out that forced PA keeper Hunter Hart into a diving save. Hart stopped the shot but gave up a rebound, and Bonsu-Anane was quickest to it, touching the ball into an open net for a 1-0 lead with 9:17 left in the first half.

Pembroke nearly answered a minute later, but a shot from close range bounced off the crossbar. And that wasn’t even the Spartans nearest miss of the night.

PA got stronger in the second half, generating chance after chance in the ConVal end, and it looked like the hard work had finally paid off with 7:33 left on the clock. That’s when Tyler Serafin shot from range and Harrison Army put the rebound into the back of the net, but the play was called offside.

“I thought we played well. I thought we were right there and we got better as the game went on,” PA coach Pete Bisson said. “Just unlucky on us not tracking the player to give up the goal and then not getting one because of that offsides.”

ConVal has been to only two title games – 1986 and 1994. Coe-Brown has been to four other finals – 2009, 1997, 1995 and 1981. Neither school has won a championship, but that will change on Saturday.

“There’s going to be a new champion crowned,” Smith said, “so that’s exciting on both ends.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20)

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