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Early goal is spark for Howland

HOWLAND — It only took 39 seconds for Howland to quell a rough-and-tumble boys soccer team like West Branch.

Howland started with Austin Stassinis finding Christian Cano through the heart of the Warriors’ defense.

It was one of six goals in the first half as the top-seeded Tigers ran roughshod on the eighth-seeded Warriors in a Division II sectional bracket final Saturday, 9-1.

“We got that goal in the first minute of the game and that kind of set the tone for us,” Howland coach Brian Stiles said. “That’s what we were looking for. The longer you leave teams in the game, the more they start believing.

“That’s one of the things we talked about all week, getting off to a good start.”

The Tigers (16-0-1) take on fourth-seeded Ursuline (10-7) in a Division II district semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Richard Lombardo Stadium in Niles.

Howland beat Ursuline at home 4-0 on Sept. 3. However, the two teams have good playoff history. The Irish lost a 1-0 game last season.

“Every time (with Ursuline) it’s a battle,” Stiles said. “We have a lot of respect for them, their coaching staff and everything else. I’m sure it’s going to be a great match on Tuesday.”

Cano and Stassinis had two goals apiece for the Tigers.

Jumping out to a good start on Tuesday is essential for Howland, especially with a stingy team like Ursuline.

The Irish have given up seven goals in the last five games, no more than two in any of those contests. They have also posted seven shutouts on the season.

“Ursuline is a very good defensive team. It’s going to be hard to break through their back line early,” Stassinis said. “I think if we come out strong and come out with the right energy and mindset, and we start out fast, then I think we can catch them sleeping early.

“If we come out slow, it’s going to be harder to break that team. We have to come out hard. We have to come out with a good mentality. We have to come out strong and hope for the best.”

Coming out strong, that’s exactly what Howland did against West Branch. The Warriors (8-9-1) didn’t have their goal until 24:25 remaining when Cohen Lamp scored.

It was one of the few times West Branch got close to scoring.

Howland has more on its mind than an opening playoff win. The Tigers want a deep run in the postseason.

“That starts with the very first game you play in the playoffs,” Stassinis said. “If you start the campaign strong when you go into the playoffs, you can pretty much do what you want to.

“We had our mind set on coming into this game, playing our hardest, playing well. That’s exactly what we did.”

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