The UMass Lowell River Hawks won a thriller at Cushing Field Friday night, beating the Hartwick Hawks 1-0 and improving their record to 4-3. Junior midfielder/forward Wuilito Fernandes scored the only goal of the contest at 20:55 of the first half. UMass Lowell junior midfielder Guilher ‘Gui’ Rodrigues was credited with the assist as he maneuvered the ball towards the box, drawing Hartwick goalie Lennie Wilson (6 saves) out of the net. Rodrigues then passed to Fernandes, who fired the ball into the net for his second goal of the year.
Fernandes said, “It was a great ball from ‘Gui.’ He said he was going to find me, all I had to do was make my run expecting the ball and the ball came. I just tried to be calm and put it away.”
Fernandes took the coaches’ game plan seriously, leading by example by arriving on the field a full two hours before game time to begin preparations and warm-ups. Coach ChristianFigueroa said, “His leadership qualities are natural. He’s not a shy guy, but he wants the best for his teammates. I think he shows that by coming out here early and taking incoming players under his wing whether they’re transfers or freshmen. He treats everyone the same and everyone sees that.”
The River Hawks dominated the game early on, applying offensive pressure and keeping the ball in their opponent’s zone throughout the first half. The Hawks were constantly set back on their heels, only managing one shot on goal in the first forty-five minutes.
With three minutes to play in the half, Harwick back Jack Miller broke into the UML zone and unloaded a rocket towards River Hawk sophomore goalie Austin Kroll who left the ground spread eagle to his right. Kroll managed to get his hands to the ball while air borne and the shot bounced straight up in the air, giving him enough time to right himself and maintain control of the play. Kroll later said, “I was feeling a little shaky at that point, but when the ball came in and I got my hand on it, I started feeling better about myself. As a result, I felt a boost in confidence in the second half.”
As Kroll settled in, UMass Lowell peppered Harwick’s freshman goalie Lenny Wilson with 5 shots on goal in the first half. Coach Figueroa called for more intensity and focus after last week’s frustrating loss to Canisius.
Figueroa called for more intensity and focus after last week’s frustrating loss to Canisius. “It was important to get our bodies rested. As a result, we came out strong and created opportunities to score in the first half. We were able to capitalize and go up 1 nil. It was disappointing not to see two goals, maybe three. Our guys had a good week in terms of preparation. The execution of the game plan yielded the desired offensive results, especially in the first forty-five minutes.”
Harwick picked up momentum in the second half. But even though they were able to sustain pressure in the UMass Lowell end, they were constantly harassed by swarming River Hawks attuned to the coaches’ defensive strategy. According to the stats, the Hawks outshot the River Hawks 8-2 (SOG) in the second half, but most of the shots were easily handled by a cool and collected Kroll, who exhibited poise in heavy traffic as he and his teammates managed to foil drive after drive.
Coach Figueroa said, “We wanted to make sure we could clog up some holes in the second half. Hartwick (3-2-1) was doing a good job creating opportunities, so we had to make sure we dealt with that. They did have a lot of shots in our end, but realistically they weren’t very dangerous opportunities. We were able to settle for incoming shots from 30 yards out, and we countered that with a good back line and a strong goalkeeper.”
This was the fourth shutout of the season for Kroll (4 wins) who had 9 saves. His dramatic save in the first half was a difference maker in the game. When asked about his overall performance, Kroll said, “I’m growing in confidence and seeing the game better. But, a lot of my shutouts are one or two saves so I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates.”
Freshman midfielder and Lowell native Edward Venta-Yepes (right) employed a “chase and rattle” strategy throughout the game. Venta-Yepes approached his duties with stamina and skill. Named last week’s America East Rookie of the Week, he moved about the field like a tornado, sparking his team, causing turnovers, upsetting Harwick’s momentum, and foiling attempts to mount drives.
Coach Figueroa said, “He’s a confident guy. He fits in with our style and his work habits are great. We’re happy to see such maturity for a guy his age. Going up against Division 1 athletes is tough, but his soccer IQ is pretty high and he flourishes with good players around him.”
River Hawk goalie Kroll summed up the win: “I think today was just great for the guys. We handled our business professionally and did what the coaches asked of us. Now it’s important to get the next win. It’s been a struggle to get to two games above .500. So it’ll be big for us to get a win on Wed. against Bryant (7pm at Cushing Field).”