BRAINTREE — The Division 2 state semifinal between Medway and North Andover Wednesday night was delayed 30 minutes because the Scarlet Knights were stuck in traffic on the way to Braintree High School.
Sensing the opponent might be slow starting out, Medway coach Jeff Hallenbeck encouraged his team to get a fast start. The Mustangs did just that, getting an early goal and cruising to a 3-0 win over North Andover.
“We had been here for over an hour, we were in the gym warming up, so we were ready to go,” Hallenbeck said. “One of our games that we lost this season we did the same thing, [arriving] with only 10 minutes to warm up and lost. So we wanted to take it at them real quick and put our dominance in right off.”
The Mustangs wasted little time grabbing a lead as Dan Messina set up Justin Kaplan for a goal in front of the net off a throw-in less than three minutes into the contest.
Medway (19-3-1) nearly got a second goal minutes later when North Andover keeper Paul DeMaio couldn’t handle a high shot cleanly, but teammate John Enright was there to block Medway’s follow-up chance.
As the half wore on, the Scarlet Knights (18-3-2) ramped up the pressure.
Striker Michael Skarbelis was taken down in the box by Medway goalie Brian Kokoszka, but no whistle was blown. A free kick from just outside the 18 box by North Andover’s Evan Dudney caromed off a diving Kokoszka right to Derek Zahoruiko, but the striker hit the outside of the post. A header from Dudney late in the half was labeled, but again Kokoszka was there to keep it 1-0 entering halftime.
The Mustangs finally got some breathing room in the 60th minute when Kaplan netted his second of the game, this one a rocket to the upper left corner of the net, for a 2-0 lead.
“The second goal was the most important goal because once we got that, it took the wind out of their sails a little bit,” Hallenbeck said. “It gave us a little bit of leeway.”
A desperate North Andover club began peppering Kokoszka with chances late in the contest, but the aggressive senior stopped all 10 shots that came his way.
“He’s playing out of his mind this tournament,” Kaplan said. “He’s really solid back there.’’
Freshman Jake Warren sealed the victory with 2:11 remaining when he launched a shot from 25 yards that whistled past a sprawling DeMaio and found the inside of the far post.
The Mustangs will meet Groton-Dunstable (17-2-4) in the state final Saturday at Worcester State.