As the sun began to set at Needham’s DeFazio Park Thursday afternoon, Newton North players celebrated en masse at midfield after their 3-1 victory over the host Rockets.
The moment was significant. The victory clinched the program’s first Bay State Conference title since 2000.
Though the BSC crown is impressive — the 10-team conference features seven clubs with a .500 record or better — the Tigers (12-2-3 overall, 9-2-2 BSC Carey) are hardly satisfied.
“We had three goals for the season,” said Sam Meiselman , a senior captain who flexes between playing goal, and shifting up to the attack.
“One: clinch the playoffs. Two: win the Bay State. Three: have as many home playoff games as we can and win the state title.”
The Tigers qualified for the Division 1 North tourney last fall, quite an accomplishment after a five-year absence. But as the No. 16 seed, after a 7-6-5 finish, North was dispatched by St. John’s Prep, 4-1.
Prior to the five-year drought, the Tigers did experience postseason success. But the lack of BSC hardware, according to Newton North nine-year coach Roy Dow, was a result of the stiff competition. “We’re in a hard league,” he said. “Needham, when they were with us in the Carey until this year, won the last seven division titles. Braintree had a few strong years, and so did Weymouth. Brookline is a good program. It’s a tough league.”
But Newton North is determined to make a deep run this fall.
“There was a different vibe coming into this year, especially coming off of our first playoff run in all of our years in the program, after getting clocked by [Prep] in the first round,” Meiselman said. “We wanted to come in this year and get it done.”
When the MIAA tournament pairings are announced Wednesday, the Tigers project to be among the top five seeds in the D1 North bracket along with Chelmsford (13-3-2), Lexington (14-1-1), Lincoln-Sudbury (12-2-1), and St. John’s Prep (12-2-4).
No easy road, but North will start its quest at home.
“We saw what can happen when you don’t take care of business in the regular season and you get a lower seed, and you have to go to a tough place to play,” Dow said.
“[Returning players] remember that. They’ve passed that knowledge onto the younger players to stress that we don’t want to do that again. That’s been a big piece of the success [this season].”
After Thursday’s league-clinching win, another senior captain, Filippo Menozzi reflected on the team’s trust in each other.
“I haven’t seen us working off each other in the way we have this year,” said Menozzi, who scored in the 38th minute to give North a 2-0 lead.
As he spoke, his teammates continued celebrating and blasting music..
“And the idea that everyone gets time on the pitch is really big,” Menozzi said. “If I need a little time, I don’t feel forced to keep going because I trust every single person on the bench. It’s that ability to rely on each other all the time.”
Senior Coleman Benedict (7 goals, 3 assists) and junior Diego Gisholt (6 goals, 3 assists) paced the Tigers in scoring, but 17 players have stamped their names on the scoresheet.
But defense remains the foundation. North has yielded just 0.76 goals per game and the tandem of Meiselman and junior PJ Membrino have teamed up for eight shutouts.
“We feel like everything kind of starts from the back,” said Ethan Coomber, a senior captain who plays center back. “Our forwards make a big tackle, and we see that and we feel that. We all really feed off each other, we’re high energy. We take a lot of pride in our defense.”
The Tigers have created a culture in that “we want to be going hard . . . every single minute,” Meiselman said.
“We want to be coming back from games and not be celebrating a tie like we have in the past. We come off a tie and we don’t speak to each other in the locker room. We want to be where we are now.”
And thus, the mind-set is shifted.
“Our motto from last year was ‘Play for November,’ and this year the captains and some of the seniors have really pushed that they want to play deep into November, not just get there.”
■ Watertown coach Frank Cacia earned his 200th career win — and 100th at his alma mater — Thursday when the Raiders (11-5-1) topped Middlesex League foe Wilmington, 3-1. The victory capped a signature week for the reigning Division 3 North champs. They also clinched the Middlesex League Freedom Division title with a 3-0 shutout of Burlington on Tuesday.
In his 13th season as a head coach in Massachusetts, Cacia has collected 200 wins with stops in Norwood, Newton South, and Watertown.
“It’s great to have the 200-win milestone, but it’s obviously a commitment of the players and the parents that have made this possible,” said Cacia (Class of 1989), a former captain at Watertown High who played collegiately at UMass Boston.
“I’ve been blessed to coach over 400 student-athletes and it’s because of them that this is possible. And to be able to build Watertown into a successful program has been great.”
■ Wellesley continues to make noise in the Bay State Conference following another perfect week in the Raiders defeated Newton North and Natick. The Raiders (10-3-1) have now won eight in a row, outscoring opponents 22-1 during that stretch. They figure to be a major factor in the Division 1 South bracket.
■ With the regular season set to conclude on Tuesday, Nauset (17-0), East Boston (10-0-3), Nantucket (11-0-1), Chelsea (11-0-3), Silver Lake (16-0-1), and Norwell (14-0-2) enter the final week unbeaten.
Players of the Week
Brandon Carroll, Sacred Heart: The senior netted two goals in a pair of wins over Westport (2-1) and Hull (4-1), helping the Saints (12-4-1) capture the Mayflower Conference/Comprehensive title.
Gevork Karapetyan, Watertown: In coach Frank Cacia’s 200th career win and 100th as Watertown’s coach, the junior tallied two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win over Wilmington
AJ Cucinotta, Dedham: The freshman recorded a hat trick in the Marauders’ 5-2 Tri-Valley League win over Bellingham Wednesday.
Alex Loyd , Silver Lake: The senior scored a goal in a 2-0 win over Plymouth North Wednesday and then added two goals in Friday’s 6-0 win over Plymouth South, capping an undefeated regular season for the Lakers (17-0-1).
Harry Roberts, Nobles: The striker netted his 15th goal of the season in Friday’s 2-0 win over Lawrence Academy as the Bulldogs (8-0-4) stayed unbeaten in the ISL.
Games to Watch
Wednesday, Boston City League final (Boston English, 5:30 p.m.) — The winners of Boston International/Burke and Tech Boston/East Boston will duel it out for the City Title on Wednesday at English High School. Burke captured the regular season crown.
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at email@example.com.