WORCESTER — It was the usual game plan for the Needham boys’ soccer team: Kick the ball up over the top to All-American forward Mac Steeves and see what he can do.
As has been the case for much of the season, Steeves delivered with seven minutes remaining in a scoreless game, giving the Rockets a 1-0 victory over Amherst in the Division 1 state championship game at Worcester State University on Friday.
“It means so much,” said Steeves. “It’s a dream come true. I slipped through and hit it over the goalie, but didn’t see the rest.”
Will Corkery launched the deep ball over Amherst’s back line as Steeves raced in, colliding with Amherst keeper Curtis Barnes just after getting his right foot on the ball and popping it over the charging goalie.
Steeves fell to the turf holding his face after the collision. The ball lofted toward the empty net and the Amherst defense was unable to get to it before it hit twine.
“I saw Mac and he had been telling me the whole game that he was quicker than their defenders,” said Corkery. “I kicked a really long ball and he did an amazing job at getting to it. We’ve played with each other since fourth grade, we have a lot of chemistry and it really showed there.”
The Rockets (21-1-3) maintained possession in the first half and looked as if they had broken a scoreless tie in the 19th minute when Corkery slammed home a second-chance rebound from the right doorstep, but the goal was waved off because of an offsides call.
In the second half, Needham spent the majority of the first 10 minutes in the Amherst end setting up its offense.
But despite their push, the Rockets were unable to generate a shot on goal and the Hurricanes remained in contention despite rarely crossing midfield with the ball.
Amherst (14-2-5) finally pushed momentum upfield halfway through the second half and Eric Gooden got off a solid shot from the right side that sailed just far of the left post.
The Hurricanes, who had knocked off two-time defending champion Ludlow, withstood almost all that Needham threw at them in their first state title game, but were unable to get an equalizer.
“I was very proud of the boys tonight,” said first-year Amherst coach Mike Rudd. “It took a few days for me to realize that this was the type of team that could compete at this level. After that, I did expect them to be right here.”
For Rockets coach Don Brock, it was his fourth state championship since launching the boys’ soccer program at Needham 46 years ago.
“It’s just such a great group of kids,” said Brock. “They work so hard and Steeves, of course, is special.”