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‘Highlight Goal’ Lifts Cougars

  • Trent Noordsij of Kearsarge leads Kyle Hamel of Stevens as they race for the ball in the varsity soccer match on Saturday. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)

    Trent Noordsij of Kearsarge leads Kyle Hamel of Stevens as they race for the ball in the varsity soccer match on Saturday. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)

  • Andrew Vanhooydonk of Kearsarge nets a goal over Stevens goalie Nick Dunham on Saturday at Kearsage. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)

    Andrew Vanhooydonk of Kearsarge nets a goal over Stevens goalie Nick Dunham on Saturday at Kearsage. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)

  • Trent Noordsij of Kearsarge leads Kyle Hamel of Stevens as they race for the ball in the varsity soccer match on Saturday. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)
  • Andrew Vanhooydonk of Kearsarge nets a goal over Stevens goalie Nick Dunham on Saturday at Kearsage. (Valley News / Ben DeFlorio)

North Sutton, n.h. — After tweaking his hip flexor in the first minute of the second half against Stevens on Saturday, Kearsarge boys soccer forward Andrew Van Hooydonk missed nearly 20 minutes while getting his leg wrapped up. When he returned, Van Hooydonk wrapped up a win for the Cougars.

In what Kearsarge coach Rob Ragazzo called his team’s “highlight goal of the year,” the senior scored the last of his three goals with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left to lift Kearsarge to a 3-2 win over the Cardinals.

The win avenged a 1-0 loss in Claremont on Sept. 28 and put the Cougars (10-3-1) in better position to secure a top-8 seed in the competitive New Hampshire Division III race. That would guarantee Kearsarge its first home playoff game since 2010.

Second-place Stevens (10-2) lost to a D-III opponent for the first time this year.

The Cardinals trailed 2-1 at halftime but gained momentum in the second half with Van Hooydonk on the sideline. They tied it off of a restart following a Kearsarge handball, with senior Zach Shedlock sending a direct kick from the left side plunking off the mitts of Cougars’ keeper Mike Sullivan (12 saves). Daniel Croteau pounded on the rebound to make it 2-2 with 9:08 to play.

Van Hooydonk did it all himself for the winner, sending a loose ball up the right flank and outracing three Stevens defenders in pursuit. From 20 yards out, he ripped a mid-level shot while falling away, too far to the left of Cards goalie Austin Putnam for the keeper to have a chance.

“It was like a surfer emerging out of a wave, only the wave was a sea of black shirts,” said Ragazzo, who’s in his 25th season as Cougars coach. “That was probably our highlight goal of the year, because we were lacking energy there and he really took it upon himself. That was a great shot from outside the 18.”

The Homecoming day game-winner was Van Hooydonk’s Upper Valley-leading 19th goal of the season, capping his second career hat trick and eighth multi-goal game. He has at least two scores in four of the last five Cougar contests and five of their last seven.

“I’ve known Andrew since (he was in) middle school, and he’s always loved to score goals,” Ragazzo said. “Over the years, they’ve improved in quality. As a senior, he’s really combined strength, speed and technical ability with a desire to score goals, and it’s made him a great player.”

Van Hooydonk’s first goal came on the Cougars’ first shot of the game and an evenly played first half. Less than six minutes in, he poked it past Putnam’s left following a header from teammate Roudy Rehor.

Stevens tied it 6:29 later, with Ethan Sweet hooking up Zach Bunnell with a touch pass over the middle and the latter beating Sullivan for his team-leading 16th goal of the year. The teams were back-and-forth for the middle stages of the period, neither gaining much advantage despite spirited play.

Kearsarge defenders Tad Sternberg, Karver Bosela, Trent Noordsij and Reed Bell did well to keep Stevens from penetrating, as did Cardinals’ counterparts Austin Roy, Josh Strobel, Shedlock and Ryan Napsey against the Cougars.

Kearsarge garnered one strong chance on a free kick, Bosela finding Frances Carpenter, who quickly passed to forward Dylan Budd. Budd’s bid went just wide in the 20th minute.

Kearsarge finally regained the lead in the 31st minute when Van Hooydonk received a pass from Bobby Lauster, danced around Napsey and beat Putnam top-shelf.

Stevens asserted themselves with Van Hooydonk on the sideline for the start of the second half. The Cards held a 13-7 edge in shots and 7-3 advantage in corner kicks in the period, tying things up with Croteau’s goal after a Kearsarge hand ball.

“I thought we played a really good second half, for the most part,” Stevens coach Jason Stone said. “It was a tight game, like it was the first time we played them. We had some holes in the middle. Kearsarge beat us to some 50/50 balls, but for the most part I thought we had a good chance to win.”

Just before Van Hooydonk’s winner, Sullivan turned away a one-on-one bid from Kyle Hamel, then tipped a give-and-go offering from Bunnell over the crossbar following a short corner kick to keep it 3-2.

Free Kicks: Kearsarge teams wore orange shoelaces in to promote bully awareness. ... Stevens is one win away from equalling its win total from the previous three seasons combined. ... Putnam was shaken up on the first goal of the game and replaced momentarily by senior Jordan Haines. ... Van Hooydonk’s only other career hat trick came last year in Kearsarge’s 6-0 home win versus Franklin. ... The Cougars have two regular season games remaining, both at home against Bishop Brady (Tuesday) and Hopkinton (on Oct. 25). ... Stevens has four games remaining, beginning Tuesday at Sunapee.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.