BOSTON – Swampscott was making its first-ever appearance in the state title game, but nerves did not seem to be an issue for the Big Blue as they fired shot after shot on the Westfield net in the opening period.
It could have been nerves that got the better of Swampscott on its first trip to the TD Garden, but instead, it was Bombers senior goalie Nick Liberto that ruined the afternoon for the North sectional champs.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Westfield senior forward Adam Collier about his goaltender. “I’ve personally watched him since freshman year and he stands on his head every game. I couldn’t ask for a better goalie.”
Liberto made 22 saves and Collier scored a pair of goals as the Western sectional champions made the most of the long drive to Boston and earned the program’s third Division 3 state title with a 4-1 victory on Sunday afternoon.
Veteran head coach C.B. Matthews, Jr., who has been at the helm for all three of the team’s state championships, was also full of praise for Westfield’s senior netminder.
He remarked, “He brought us here and he kept us in the game tonight. He made some enormous saves. We were running around a little bit and he kept us in the game.”
Liberto deflected praise to his teammates and commented that his primary focus is giving his team the chance to get the game’s first goal.
“I was just trying to stay focused and I always want to give my team the first goal,” explained Liberto. “I feel like that’s huge. So, I’m good from the start.”
Swampscott freshman goalie Tristan Bradley was also excellent in the first period, but the Big Blue was caught out on two odd-man rushes by Westfield. With 4:16 left in the period, Connor Sullivan finished a two-on-one from Chris Sullivan to make it 1-0. Inside the final minute, Collier scored his first to double the Bombers’ lead.
“We gave up a couple of two on one’s, which resulted in goals but I thought for the most part we had some great opportunities, but we weren’t able to put the puck in the net,” said Big Blue head coach Gino Faia.
Collier added his second and the team’s third midway through the second period. Sean Spohr, who also assisted on Collier’s first goal, and Brandon Miemiec got the assists. Matthews called the forward his team’s “unsung hero.”
“My line has been doing great,” noted Collier about his goalscoring success in the tournament. “We just try to get to the net, move the puck well, and get the puck on net. Luckily, it’s paid off.”
Westfield nearly let a third period lead slip in the semifinal against Wachusett, so there was still pressure on the Bombers despite the three-goal advantage. That pressure increased when Robert Serino scored a wraparound goal with 8:55 remaining to make it 3-1.
Swampscott pushed forward and continued to fire shots toward Liberto, but the Westfield defensemen held firm and blocked a number of efforts in the closing minutes. Corey Carmody nearly made it a one-goal game late in the third, but his shot slid through Liberto’s five-hole and all the way through the crease.
Anthony Cagliostro tacked on an empty net goal to ice the game for the Bombers in the game’s final minute.
“Normally third periods have been our best periods all season long and we told them that we’ve got to get the one,” said Faia. “We did score and got some energy, but we kind of ran out of time there.”
Collier admitted that the Medway game was on the players’ minds as the third period began on Sunday.
“We gave up four goals in the third period [against Wachusett on Thursday] and going into the third period here we knew that we couldn’t let down and the title was ours,” he commented.
Westfield celebrated the program’s third title and Matthews noted that, no matter how many championships the program wins, it never gets old.
“It’s a good feeling,” he reflected. “They’re all special. These young men will never forget them.”