HERKIMER, NY – The Herkimer College Generals have always been known as a fast-paced, high scoring team. Thursday afternoon at Wehrum Stadium, the Generals kept the pace fast, but at the same time, kept their opponents’ score as low as it could possibly go.
Goalkeeper Roandre Wollery posted a shutout and a clean sheet for the Generals, while midfielder Gus Ward notched two goals in Herkimer’s 3-0 shutout of fifth seeded Bunker Hill Community College. For Wollery, it was a team effort to maintain that clean sheet.
“My defenders helped me out today,” the sophomore from Hartford, Connecticut said. “I didn’t have to do much…they cleaned up a lot.”
However, it was the Bulldogs applying the pressure early, firing off quick shots to keep Wollery on his toes for the first five minutes of the game. It didn’t take long for the Generals to flip the script, though, as they began their brand of offense: furious, deep runs into opposing territory, led by sophomore forward Luke Murphy. Murphy, along with midfielder Camilo Avendano were able to give the Generals the early advantage in shots, peppering Bunker Hill goalkeeper Kevin Mesa with shots.
It didn’t take long before Herkimer found a hole in the Bunker Hill defense. After another chance by Murphy, Ward found the rebound at his feet and rocketed the ball into the back of the net to give the Generals a 1-0 lead just nine minutes into the game.
From there, the Bulldogs managed to put together an uncharacteristic amount of runs deep into Herkimer territory. One run after another, though, Bunker Hill would be sent back frustrated.
“I’m really happy with my back four,” head coach Pepe Aragon said of his defense. “They made Roandre’s job a lot easier [today].”
That would be the story for both teams for the rest of the first half: both offenses would make very long runs, without much to show for it, as both Wollery and Mesa kept their sheets clean the rest of the first half.
What drove the first half, indeed, most of the game, was the officiating. Several long drives were cut short by an offside call, and many fouls remained uncalled, in the opinion of the decidedly partisan crowd at Wehrum Stadium. When a foul was called, it hurt the Generals significantly more, as Ward was shown a yellow card late in the first half for dissent with an official. Despite the yellow, Herkimer continued to threaten for the rest of the half, while the back four continued to be formidable, and the score remained 1-0 heading into the halftime break.
“It’s soccer…mistakes happen,” Wollery said of the questionable calls. “All the time, we just kept our heads up and played until the end.”
When the two teams came back out for the second half, one team came back way more confident than the other. The Generals continued their push deep into Bunker Hill territory, while employing the bend-but-don’t-break defense that had gotten them into the NJCAA tournament. Just like the first time, it didn’t take long for Herkimer to strike yet again. Ward would only need seven minutes to double the Generals’ lead. On a long Herkimer break, Ward would curl one just past the outstretched arms of Mesa to give the Generals a 2-0 lead.
It would only take another two minutes for Herkimer to finally put the Bulldogs away. Murphy, taking advantage of a Bulldogs’ mistake, rushed Mesa. While his first effort may not have made it into the back of the net, his rebound certainly did, and suddenly, the Herkimer lead was now three.
“There’s no doubt that second goal made us a little more relaxed,” Aragon said. “The third goal allowed us to put our subs in.”
Unfortunately, as the game wore on, the play became more and more chippy, until it finally came to a head just ten minutes into the second half. A shoving match ensued right in front of the Bunker Hill penalty box, and Murphy came out of the pileup clutching his head, the victim of a punch from freshman defender Robinson Tabares. Murphy would wind up with a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Tabares would be sent off.
From there, the Generals managed to put up a wall around their side of the pitch, only allowing two Bunker Hill chances in the ensuing 30 minutes to put Bunker Hill away for good.
With the win, the Generals find themselves with an even more daunting task in the semifinals on Friday: the top-ranked, top-seeded Richland College Thunderducks. The Thunderducks needed overtime to narrowly beat eighth-seeded Ocean County College, 2-1. Despite all of the hype coming from the small college from Dallas, neither Wollery nor Aragon is worried about the Generals’ chances going into Friday afternoon’s game.
“It would mean a lot to beat Richland,” Wollery said. “but we need to get to Sunday [afternoon’s championship game]…that’s the big one.”
“This game is just a rivalry,” Aragon said of Herkimer’s past encounters with the Thunderducks. “It’s been a battle every time we’ve played. Right now we have to recover, and then we’ll meet as a team. We preach that teams are as good as we let them be…it’s going to be a good game.”
#4 Herkimer Generals 3, #5 Bunker Hill Bulldogs 0
NJCAA Division III National Championship Quarterfinal
Generals 1 2 0
Bulldogs 0 0 0
H- Gus Ward (unassisted), 9:58
H- Ward (yellow card – dissent with official), 40:36
H- Ward (Luke Murphy), 52:14
H- Murphy (Tyler Dobinson), 54:56
BH- Robinson Tabares (red card – throwing a punch), 59:39
H- Murphy (yellow card – unsportsmanlike conduct), 59:39
H- Diego Bastone (yellow card – unsportsmanlike conduct), 81:44
Shots on Goal: Herkimer 9, Bunker Hill 4.
Saves: Roandre Wollery (H) 4, Kevin Mesa (BH) 6.
Records: Herkimer 19-1-1, Bunker Hill 15-3-0.