NASHUA, N.H. | Down 1-0 to battle-hardened and undefeated Pinkerton with 10 minutes to go, Londonderry coach Shawn Diaz had to make a change if his team were to tie the game.

His decision: switch from the 4-4-2 to a more attack-minded 3-5-2 formation, moving central defender Steve Carroll to central midfield. The gamble paid off, as Carroll set up the game-tying goal in the 76th minute, then scored the game-winner less than two minutes into overtime to lead Londonderry to a shocking 2-1 win in the Class L semifinal. The Lancers will play Merrimack, who beat Exeter 2-0 earlier in the evening, for the state championship on Saturday.

"I've been here five years, and this is my first time past the quarterfinals," said Diaz. "This is the third year in a row that we faced (Pinkerton) in the tournament. The last two years, they knocked us out of it. It's nice to get a good bounce our way. The last two years in the playoffs, they scored in the first minute and we never got a goal. They shut us out two years in a row. For us to score two goals kind of makes up for the last two shutouts."

Both goals were the direct result of Diaz's adjustment. Having the extra body in on the attack forced the turnover that led to the equalizer. Carroll stepped into a pass ahead from a Pinkerton defender, toeing a perfect through-ball to forward Billy Holland. Holland beat the keeper one-on-one, and Londonderry lapsed into a defensive shell to force overtime.

"I didn't even know what to do," said Carroll. (After the goal, the defense) was crazy and unorganized, but we just had to get back. We were just hoping for overtime so we could get organized again."

The defense organized itself enough that it was able to turn aside a pair of threatening Pinkerton corner kicks in the last minute of play and forced the extra time. Once there, it was a Robbie McLarney corner kick that pushed the Lancers through to the state final. The perfectly struck ball found Carroll's head and bounced into the net in the 82nd minute.

"I was looking where everyone was, and I saw I had a nice lane so I thought, 'Oh, this might be it,'" said Carroll. "Robbie just sent a perfect ball right to me and I just headed it down in the right spot. Robbie puts it wherever it's supposed to be. It feels great for me because I play defense so I don't get to score much. It's amazing."

Pinkerton junior Omar Khartabil opened the scoring in the 53rd minute on a pass from Corey Grant, who intercepted an attempted clearing pass from deep in the Londonderry box, and passed to an uncovered Khartabil. Khartabil wheeled and fired, beating Londonderry keeper Andrew Pescia.

"It was played out of the back and Corey just found him," said Astros coach Kerry Boles. "That's not by accident. Omar is certainly capable of hitting the ball from there, and we felt we could get some shots out there. A lot of times we turned away from those shots and kind of tried to make some pretty passes, and that wasn't too effective. I was hoping he and Jordan would get a few more and they just didn't pull the trigger."

The loss was especially tough for the Astros because they allowed Londonderry to move up and never put together a cohesive plan of attack against Londonderry's depleted backline.

"We played into their hands," said Boles. "We knew they pushed a guy up front and had three in the back, and we still tried to force it down the middle instead of hitting the outside. We were having success from the outside (before that happened), and we weren't too smart with that."

Unfortunately for Londonderry, it will be without Diaz for the final. Kyle Gracia was booked in the 22nd minute, giving the Lancers 10 collective yellow cards on the year and meaning Diaz must sit out the team's next game, in this case, the state championship. However, Diaz remains confident in his team.

"(Assistant coach) Derek (Dane) is fantastic," Diaz said. "As far as I see it, we're one of the only programs that has two head coaches. I might be the coach on paper, but he's in training every day. He's very experienced."



Londonderry 2, Pinkerton 1 (ot)

Goals: L | Billy Holland, Steve Carroll; P | Omar Khartabil

Assists: L | Carroll, Robbie McLarney; P | Corey Grant

Saves: L | Andrew Pescia 3; P | Chris Doyle 3

Londonderry (15-3-1): 0-1-1 | 2

Pinkerton (18-1): 0-1-x | 1

This Week's Circulars