Baptista blasts Whalers into uncharted waters

LYNN, Mass. -- Fernando Baptista wasn't looking to put the shot on goal as much as he was just trying to get the ball back into the 18-yard box again, as his New Bedford Whalers turned up the aggression over the last few minutes of their second overtime with Newton North.

Yet there it zoomed by the outstretched hands of Tigers goalkeeper Matt Dickey, from 30 yards out on the right flank, an unexpected lucky bounce that boosted the Whalers to a 2-1 victory over the Tigers, and wrapped up their first Division 1 Eastern Mass championship since 1978.

And then, after getting mobbed by his teammates on the near sideline, he went totally dead weight. For five minutes, teammates picked him up only to watch him flounder to the turf repeatedly before finding his feet again as several hundred of his fans chanted his name from the stands.

"I was tired, to be honest," he shrugged ever-so-bluntly, with a smile. "Just tired."

And his emotions?

"I'm happy," he shot back with a grin, keeling over and bursting into laughter.

Forgive the senior forward for being short on breath -- this was not only the sixth game in 10 days for the Whalers (19-1-3), but an unforgettable night in history for both programs. New Bedford will travel to Worcester State on Friday and try to capture its first state title since 1972, against the winner of tonight's Central/West final between regional powers Algonquin and Ludlow. Meanwhile, Newton North made quite the run under first-year head coach Roy Dow, entering the North sectionals as the No. 19 seed and knocking off powers Masconomet, Acton-Boxborough, Lexington and Brookline to get here (all by one goal or penalty kicks).

"They've got some kids who can play, we've got some kids who can play, and the end of the day, it was a moment of brilliance that got them the win," Dow said. "I've said to these guys all year, you've got to play the lottery. What I mean by that is take your chance. And in games like this, it takes playing the lottery and winning to win it."

And certainly, after a lethargic first half that saw the Whalers dominate possession and go up 1-0 in the 23rd minute on a close-range Gilmer Ramos feed from Baptista, the Tigers were heeding the words of their coach. Dow instructed his wide midfielders to move up, and in turn the Tigers rattled off a slew of scoring chances in the final third. With 24 minutes left, senior forward Jeremy Gurvitz took a long lead cross down the left flank from junior defender Jackson Moss-Hawkins, and from the top of the box rolled it to the far post, where it evaded the grasp of New Bedford's Eli Ries.

North had an opportunity to make it 2-1 five minutes later when Gurvitz again broke down the left side of the pitch and from 15 yards out fired a hard shot that dinged off the near post and right back to him just inside the box. His quick rebound shot curled over the crossbar.

After that flurry of scoring chances in the second half, the Whalers found their composure again and buckled down, before Baptista sent them home ecstatic.

"I don't care how pretty or ugly it goes, as long as goes through that damn line," New Bedford head coach John Macaroco said. "Dramatic or not dramatic, we'll take it. I mean, he (Baptista) has the capability to...we've been doing that all year long. Sometimes, he has the shot and pulls the trigger. I guess he held the trigger for a good game."