Central knocks off Hanover to win Division I title
'We actually knew going into the year, the coach staff, that it wasn't going to be an easy year,' head coach Chris Laberge said. 'We were going to have to develop as the season went through. This team knew if we just stayed focused we could get to the final.'
They went 11-4-1, good enough to earn the fourth seed in the playoffs, but lost regular season matches against all three higher seeds.
No team in the Division I tournament was awarded a first-round bye, so Central opened up against Bishop Guertin and dispatched the No. 13 team, 3-0. The Little Green got by No. 5 Winnacunnet in the second round, 1-0, setting up a semifinal matchup with undefeated, No. 1 Bedford.
Bedford won all 16 of its regular season games, including a 2-1 win over Central in the last contest before the postseason. The Bulldogs beat No. 16 Manchester Memorial, 2-0, in the first round, and then sent No. 8 Timberlane off with a 2-1 win.
Central became the first team to knock out Bedford in over a year. Sam Binogono scored on a corner to give the Little Green a 1-0 win and a second-straight title match berth.
'Our goal every year is to get to the state final and give ourselves a chance to win,' LaBerge said. 'This group really bought into it, worked hard all year long, got better every week and our last few training sessions, we were just amazed how far they'd come since the beginning of the year.'
Hanover, the third-seed, dominated its first two playoff games, but squeaked out a 1-0 win over two-seed Londonderry in the semifinals to make the championship game. Hanover and Central hadn't met since Aug. 28, when the Little Green fell 1-0 in their second game of the season.
LaBerge said they knew it was going to be a hard-fought game heading in, but were confident they had the potential to win back-to-back championships.
'We've been to the finals four years in a row, so they certainly had a calm, composed feeling going into the game,' LaBerge said. 'We know how to win a tough game.'
Central took that composed sentiment and turned it into a first half goal from Binogono, who was assisted by Keegan LaBerge. Alex Carignan scored an insurance goal off a corner kick for Central with about 15 minutes to play in the game, and from there, the defense dominated as it had throughout the playoffs. Hanover managed a goal with the clock nearing zero, but the score was too late to spark a comeback.
'I wouldn't say we dominated or it was an easy game, we just took our chances better than they did,' said LaBerge. 'It was a tough battle, pretty physical, but thankfully we were the ones to come out on top again.'
Aside from Hanover's goal in the closing moments, Central didn't allow a goal throughout the tournament. The defense, consisting of four seniors and anchored by Noah Edmunds in goal, kept teams scoreless six times in 16 regular season games, but three times in the four playoff matches. LaBerge commended center back Rick Prindeville and Chad Bowden for their brick-wall-like play.
'They're the ones who kept everybody off the board in the playoffs and got us to the title game,' said LaBerge. 'Noah Edmunds was huge in the playoffs. He only let up one goal in four games, so I was pretty excited about his play.'
Central also graduates midfielder Semir Sandzic, defender Selim Salihovic and midfielder Blake Cornellier.
Although Central loses seven seniors, LaBerge played four sophomores and several juniors in the championship game, and said they 'have a good core coming back.'
'I think the leadership of the seniors definitely pulled us through this year,' LaBerge said. 'We just have a real sense of being a championship team right now, the way our program has been doing the past few years.'..