PALMER – Anyone that thought the Southwick High School boys soccer team was not worthy of a tournament berth best think again.
No. 10 Southwick, the West Division 3 boys soccer tournament’s only sub .500 team, won its third game in four tries, stunning seventh-seeded Palmer 4-3 in the opening round of the playoffs Saturday night.
Kayden Hawley scored two goals to lead Southwick, which qualified for the tourney with a second place finish in the Class Division at 4-3-1. Eric Haynes and Paul Whalley also each tallied a goal. Rams’ Cade Billings delivered two assists, and Nick Brown had one.
“The boys fought hard all year,” Southwick coach Chris Whalley said. “We had a tough schedule early with a lot of games in a short amount of time. We got hot at the right time.”
Southwick (5-8-4) posted three wins and a tie during the season’s final stretch, and the momentum appeared to carry over into the postseason.
Southwick came out firing from the outset as Haynes drilled a high laser-beam shot into the upper portion of the net in the third minute.
Billings set up the next two Southwick scores – first-half goals from Whalley (24:56) and Hawley (12:23) – to take a 3-0 lead.
Palmer (10-7-2) responded with Brandyn Costa’s well-placed high floater out of reach of the goalie’s grasp to pull within 3-1 shortly before the half.
In the second half, Palmer pulled within one goal of a tie twice. Emerson Duran scored first to make it 3-2. Hawley put Southwick back in front by two before Diego Leecock trimmed the lead to 4-3 with less than six minutes remaining.
Southwick goalie Ryan Molta (4 saves) and the Rams held on, fighting back every Palmer attack for a thrilling win.
“We expected a street fight,” coach Whalley said. “We gave everybody an exciting game.”
Southwick will look to keep the good vibes going in the quarterfinals against No. 2 Belchertown (12-5-1).