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Panthers reach Final Four for second consecutive year with 3-0 win over Newmarket

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

MA’s Drew Swedberg battles with Newmarket’s Collin McKinney during first half action on Oct. 28. The fourth-seeded Panthers won 3-0 in their D-IV quarterfinal. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 29, 2012
MOULTONBOROUGH – One year later, with a decidedly different team, Moultonborough Academy is back in the Final Four.

Three different players scored goals, all on assists from senior Drew Swedberg, as the fourth-seeded Panthers absolutely dominated in a 3-0 win over fifth-seeded Newmarket in a Division IV quarterfinal on Oct. 28.

After graduating some key players from last year's team that made a surprise trip to the semifinals as a number nine seed, MA (14-3-1) came into this fall season looking to establish a new identity. With new coach Eric Porusta taking the reins of the program, the Panthers played a lot of soccer together during the summer to get ready. Still, there was some hesitation as to whether a second consecutive trip to the Final Four was in the cards.

"I wasn't even sure," admitted Swedberg, who played an outstanding game from his center midfield spot. "But we brought everyone together and had a good summer to get ready. We didn't even have our full team playing together during the summer but as soon as we got into practice to start the fall, we knew we had the potential."

Porusta knew his job was to get the Panthers on the same page, believing they had the ability to become a consistent tournament performer.

"They bought into everything," the coach said. "We started the process back when I got hired in March. I told the kids that we're going to play all summer together, grow together. And when preseason starts, you're all going to see that you've got a good team here and you can compete."

MA had a big weapon in its back pocket heading into its quarterfinal, as home field advantage through the semifinal round meant the Mules (13-5) would have to travel to Moultonborough and play where the Panthers feel most comfortable.

"By not playing (Newmarket) in the regular season, they couldn't predict what was going to happen," explained Porusta. "Until you see what's going to happen from us, it's hard to predict. I'm sure they asked about us and got some information, but the style we play can be difficult when you haven't played us."

That was indeed the case on this particular day, as the explosive MA offense got to work right away. Just 3:30 into the first half, Drew Swedberg hit a cross to the far side of the field. Younger brother Riley Swedberg lined the ball up just inside the 18-yard box, and he headed a missile on frame that got just under the crossbar for a highlight reel goal that put the Panthers up 1-0.

"All season long we've played really well here," said Porusta of the home cooking. "They like playing here and it really started to drive them late in the season to getting a couple of home games."

MA peppered the Newmarket goal the rest of the half, with Drew Swedberg's trademark long throw-ins presenting all sorts of problems for the Mules defense. It finally resulted in a second goal with 19:30 left in the first half, as Swedberg heaved in a throw in from the right side. Newmarket's goalkeeper had trouble hauling the ball in, and freshman forward Andrew Porusta was in the perfect spot for the rebound, as he headed it into the open net for a 2-0 advantage.

"It was a great start for us," said Drew Swedberg. "Riley had an incredible header from long range for that first goal and we took off from there. We talked about that before the game…if we want to break a great team down, we have to score early."

Sophomore forward Tristan Price capped off the scoring with 12:30 remaining in the opening half, as Drew Swedberg's free kick from midfield was flicked perfectly on the head of Price into the back of the net for the 3-0 lead. MA would enter intermission with all the momentum in the world, as a deflated Newmarket team struggled for answers in successfully defending a potent Panthers offense.

"The guys up front are so creative," said Swedberg. "Their runs are great and they make such good decisions. It's great to have forwards that pass the ball back because they know we're looking to send it right back up to them for goal-scoring opportunities."

The Mules didn't threaten with much in the second half, as the MA defense led by senior Keenan Plancon and goalkeeper TJ Marchand made sure Newmarket didn't get the chance to establish any momentum of its own.

"At halftime we just made sure to keep playing and go out and don't give (Newmarket) any hope," Porusta said. "I couldn't be more proud of them. We proved we were worthy of the four-seed and now we're one of four teams left."

The win sends MA into the semifinals, where the Panthers will tangle with top-seeded Lisbon Regional (18-0-0), a 4-2 winner over Gorham in the quarterfinals. That game is scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The winner of that semifinal will play for the Division IV state championship on Sunday, Nov. 4 at noon in a game played at Southern New Hampshire University.

The quarterfinal win came just four days after the Panthers opened the postseason with a 4-2 win over Portsmouth Christian Academy in the preliminary round.

MA jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game, with Price scoring twice on headers off Swedberg throw-ins.

13th-seeded PCA scored just before halftime to get within 2-1, but the Panthers scored two goals in the second half to regain momentum. Miles Clarenbach assisted on goals by Drew and Riley Swedberg for a 4-1 advantage.

"First round games can sometimes be a bit of a mess given that nerves come into play," said Porusta. "The team did enough to win though."

Martin Lord Osman
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