Bucs’ stellar year ends with tourney loss

MILFORD — Hugs, tears and words of appreciation filled the field at Milford High.

The best Milford boys’ soccer season in three decades came to a close Saturday night. It’s one the Buccaneers won’t forget.

Eric Johnson’s goal in the 62nd minute broke a tie and gave Middletown High a 2-1 victory over Milford in the quarterfinals of the DIAA Division I boys’ soccer state tournament.

It was the only loss of the season for Milford, which won its first Henlopen Conference championship since 1989.

“I’m going to be at peace with it and I’m sure these guys will be at peace with it when they look at the big picture,” said Milford coach Todd French, who said it felt bad “to have one loss and have that loss be at the end like this, but they will look back together and realize there’s a lot of positives.”

Milford, seeded third in the tournament, finished 12-1-1 overall. Middletown, the tournament’s sixth seed, advanced to play No. 2 Salesianum on Wednesday at a time and place to be determined.

Middletown opened the scoring on a 32-yard free kick from Raymond Kelly and took a 1-0 lead into halftime.

Milford equalized through an audacious goal by Emanuelle Carranza in the 59th minute. Carranza smacked a shot off a volley from well outside the penalty area, near the right sideline. His effort knifed through a strong wind before dropping below the crossbar and into the back of the net.

Celebrations were short-lived, however, as Johnson corralled a long pass which skipped through the Milford backline and slotted his attempt into the bottom of the net.

“We got a bunch of seniors who have gone through it,” said Middletown coach Anthony Dirienzo. “Right after you get a gut punch at the end of the third quarter, to come out and respond, that’s the type of team this is. They’re resilient.”

Milford had a couple of chances to tie the game again in the final minutes. But one free kick skimmed over the crossbar and a header in the last two minutes bounced right to the Middletown keeper.

French expressed excitement as to how far this program has come. He said he remembered just four years ago, the coaching staff was counting points to make sure they had enough to qualify for the Division II tournament.

Since then, the Buccaneers have moved up to the Henlopen North and showed they belong.

“I’m beyond proud,” French said. “I actually started by teaching some of these kids in third grade. I’ve known them since then. I got them to start playing soccer and they stuck together. We put a group together and they just kept playing. They went from kids who didn’t know much to Henlopen Conference champs and proved they can play with anybody.”

With the support from the Milford community and what he’s seen from the coaching staff’s youth clinics, French thinks this is only the start for Milford.

“The sense of community we see on social media, people calling us, emails and whatnot, has been overwhelming,” French said. “People coming from all over, different generations sending us messages has been really fun to see. I think it will continue to build. We have a lot of young, excellent kids coming up through our youth system right now, so we’re very excited about that.”