ELLSWORTH, Maine — Rebounding from a defeat is a rare challenge for the Ellsworth boys soccer team in recent years. Last Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Washington Academy of East Machias marked the first time seniors Josh Bean and Maks Grover had dropped a regular-season match in their four varsity seasons with the Eagles.
But with postseason play rapidly approaching, coach Brian Higgins’ club has bounced back in successful fashion this week, first defeating George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill 5-0 on Monday and then celebrating Senior Night with a 4-1 win over John Bapst of Bangor amid misty conditions at Del Luce Stadium on Wednesday evening.
“Taking that loss was really hard for us at first,” said Grover, “but we basically tried to brush it off our shoulders, get our heads back into the game and try to do what we do best, and that’s score goals.”
Bean had two goals and an assist and Grover added an assist as Ellsworth — top-ranked in Eastern Maine Class B — defeated John Bapst for the second time this fall to improve to 11-0 this season and 52-1-1 overall in regular-season play since the start of the 2009 campaign.
“This late in the season Brian’s going to have them playing well,” said John Bapst coach Sean Smith, whose team is 5-6-1 and battling for one of the final Eastern B playoff berths with two games left in its regular season. “They were aggressive, this is their home field, they’re going to get those 50-50 calls and that’s just the game of soccer.”
Ellsworth dominated the first half, outshooting the Crusaders 19-3 while building a 2-0 lead.
It was a fast start that was lacking in the Eagles’ lone loss.
“We have not been coming out on fire until the last couple of games,” said Bean. “We came out with a sense of urgency against WA in the second half but it was too late, we should have come out that way in the first half. We had our chances, we just couldn’t take care of them, and we have to know that everyone is going to give us their best game.”
Jeff Weeks, one of 10 sophomores on the Ellsworth roster, gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead 6:17 into the match on an assist from Grover. Bean threw the ball in from the right wing to Grover, who maneuvered around a defender near the right goal post before lofting a sharp-angled crossing pass that Weeks headed into the net.
“We’ve worked on passing more,” said Grover, “and when the ball is in the air inside the 18 we’re playing basically like World Cup and trying to head the ball in, which is how we scored that first goal.”
Another Ellsworth sophomore, Conor Maguire, made it 2-0 before intermission, heading a corner kick by Bean off the gloves of John Bapst goalie Adam Strang and into the net from close range.
But John Bapst came out with renewed enthusiasm after the break and narrowed its deficit to 2-1 with a goal by junior striker Braden Sickles with 26:41 remaining.
Sophomore Josiah Simko began the play with a line-drive direct kick from about 35 yards out into the goal crease, and when Ellsworth goalie Steven Mahon (five saves) couldn’t gain control, Sickles scored on the rebound.
Simko followed with two more threatening direct kicks, one Mahon scrambled to finally control and a second that sailed just over the crossbar, but it was Bean that scored the critical next goal on a direct kick to restore Ellsworth to a two-goal cushion with 18:18 left.
“That’s the sign of our team this year is that one team can show up in the first half and then another team can show up in the second half,” said Smith. “But it’s a great group of guys who’ve worked hard and they weren’t going to roll over and die down here.
“They wanted to come out and perform well, and I thought we came out and battled in the second half and got some scoring chances, and we were a couple of bounces and maybe one or two calls away from it being a 2-2 game.”
Bean’s goal came from just outside the 18-yard line after teammate Ben Haslam had been tripped, as the senior midfielder blasted a low shot around John Bapst’s defensive wall and inside the left goal post.
Bean added his second goal of the match in the final minutes, taking a long lead pass down the left wing from Weeks, then maneuvering his way around Strang (12 saves) before kicking the ball into the open net.