WALPOLE — There’s that old saying in sports: It’s not how you start, buy how you finish.
Neither of those things went the way of the Oakmont Regional boys soccer team Tuesday night.
A rough start saw the top-seeded Spartans fall behind almost instantly and their struggles to finish at the other end proved too much to overcome as Oakmont fell, 2-1, to No. 4 Pembroke in a Division 3 semifinal at Walpole High School.
The Titans (18-2-1) will face Norwell in Saturday’s final, with a time and venue to be announced. The third-seeded Clippers ended the Cinderella run of No. 26 Dighton-Rehoboth by a 2-0 score Tuesday afternoon.
The season ends with a 20-3-0 mark for the Spartans, who won the Central Mass. Athletic Directors Association Class B title and picked up three postseason victories before running out of gas.
The semifinal proceedings couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a worse start for the Spartans than what occurred Tuesday.
After goalkeeper Ben Forbes turned aside a long, high drive into the box just seconds after kickoff, the rebound sprung free and the Spartans were unable to clear. Pembroke junior Colin Blake alertly raced to the bounding ball and nodded it into the net for a 1-0 lead in the opening minute.
The Titans added some insurance with 23 minutes remaining as Matt McAuliffe headed home a corner kick to double the advantage after controlling much of the game’s play.
The Spartans eventually broke through in the game’s final minutes as Gael Vera capped his high school career by heading a free kick past Titans goalie Jack Eva (three saves) to cut the lead in half.
Oakmont struggled to string passes together at midfield as the Titans packed the center of the pitch all night and denied easy entry into the attacking third.
The Spartans had their best chances to dent the net early, with Reyad Magdoul heading a ball just wide of the net in the 14th minute and Oakmont getting looks off back-to-back corner kicks midway through the opening half.
With a two-goal lead and the Spartans pressing, the offense opened up for the Titans and the game’s outcome would have been more lopsided if it weren’t for the efforts of Forbes. The senior made seven of his 10 stops in the second half, often in spectacular fashion.
He denied Blake on a point-blank shot in the 60th minute and made a sprawling save on Shane Crowley four minutes later as the Pembroke junior broke in alone.
Forbes also benefitted from a bit of luck, as a drive by Gabe Lamar rang off the iron with 10 minutes left, keeping the deficit at two.