By JERRY TRECKER
Special to the Chronicle
MANSFIELD â€” A year ago, E. O. Smith was 16-2-1 and reached the semifinals of the CIAC Class L boys state championship.
With most of that team back and the addition of talented central defender Nate Metsack, the Panthers (2-0) are looking for something even better this term. They have settled quickly to their task if Tuesdayâ€™s 3-1 victory over visiting RHAM (1-1) is a proper indication.
â€śWe have a lot of players who are comfortable, who can keep the ball,â€ť said veteran coach John Blomstrann in the wake of a convincing win.
That was the difference between the teams as E.O. Smith controlled midfield with its passing game, forcing the Sachems so deep into defense that they rarely could launch any kind of attack. With top scorer Cooper Knecht immediately into the thick of things, the Panthers were on top from the start, but RHAM keeper James Abu-Rameh (13 saves) kept his team around much longer than Smithâ€™s possession edge would have indicated.
Knecht scored twice, bringing his total to six in two games, and could have had more. He was robbed twice by Abu-Rameh in the first 20 minutes when all of the traffic was 1-way. Senior Leo Melchor finally made the scoreboard reflect the state of play when he curled in a shot from the edge of the penalty area just past the half-hour.
Knecht scored in the ninth minute of the second half after some neat approach work involving Agegnew Dorgan, Larson Richards and Ricardo Baltazar, then made it 3-0 with an individualistâ€™s finish from 18 yards with 18 minutes left.
â€śHe is so strong on the ball,â€ť Blomstrann said of Knecht, a 34-goal scorer a year ago who will take his strikerâ€™s boots to Fairfield University next season.
Blomstrann also liked the work of Richards and praised senior Stephen Ruchalski, who stepped into central midfield work with All-American midfielder Will Toomey limited with a foot injury.
The lone RHAM goal came from senior Jack Salan, with a quality long-range effort two minutes after Knecht had made it 3-0. Salan also came close earlier in the half, while Jonny Clough was denied late in the first half on the visitorsâ€™ lone real chance in the opening 40 minutes.