The Needham boys’ soccer team rolled through an always challenging Bay State Conference slate, posting a 12-1-2 league record en route to a Herget division title and the top seed in the Division 1 South tournament bracket.
In the postseason, though, the Rockets (18-2-3) have been put in some tough situations — second-half deficits, overtimes, and harsh conditions. But in each game, it seems, Matt Dougherty has come through when Needham needed him most.
After the senior forward netted an overtime goal in Wednesday’s 2-1 state semifinal victory against Lincoln-Sudbury, Needham is headed to its first state final since 2014, taking on Longmeadow at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Worcester State.
“He’s a big-game player,” said Needham coach Jimmy Odierna. “He lives for the big moments.”
Dougherty is up to 22 goals on the season after scoring nine in just three tournament matches: Four to kick off the postseason against Hingham on Nov. 7, a hat trick in the sectional final against Brockton on Nov. 16, and a pair of goals Wednesday.
Beyond the significant numbers has been the timing. Against Brockton, the Rockets trailed, 2-1, in the second half until Dougherty reeled off three unanswered. He opened the scoring in the second half against L-S, then got the last word after the Warriors tied it, with a brilliant run and finish.
“I just believe in myself,” he said after Wednesday’s winner. “I knew I was capable of it all along, but to be completely honest with you, I didn’t know to this extent.
“I believe in every guy on this team and I knew they could help me achieve that.”
In the Brockton game, Dougherty and his teammates were stumped through 40 minutes. He kept his cool, not wondering for a moment if the Boxers had found a way to keep him from leaving his mark on the game.
“All game I knew they were coming,” he said of his trio of tallies to deliver that win.
Needham last won a state title in 2014. No members of today’s Rockets team were in high school, and Odierna was an assistant coach.
“Nobody expected us from the start of the season,” Dougherty said. “People thought we were going to win a couple games here and there. It’s amazing for this team to do what we’ve been doing.”
Odierna admitted this team didn’t always look like a lock for the state final.
“A lot of times, you say that’s your goal, but the reality is it’s going to be very hard to get there. I walked away from the first day of preseason and I was like, ‘Oof, it’s going to be a tough one.’ And from the beginning, the guys have been looking to get better,” Odierna said. “We felt like, from midway through the season, that we are the team to beat in the South.”
Odierna said Saturday’s final game is “about creating their own identity, which they’ve done throughout the year.”
Dougherty figures to feature prominently in that.
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at email@example.com.