Oct. 13—BEVERLY — Beverly High senior captain Nick Braganca was feeling a bit under the weather on Wednesday afternoon, to say the least.
The talented midfielder was battling flu like symptoms, which forced him out of the Panthers' match against Acton-Boxborough for extended periods. But considering the significance of the game — not only for MIAA postseason ranking purposes but also for playoff-like experience against a strong team — Braganca pushed through and returned down the stretch.
The result was a game-tying equalizer in crunch time for Braganca, who rifled an absolute laser far post, top shelf after a nice lead pass from teammate Teo Berbic. Beverly held strong defensively from there, securing a 2-2 draw against the worthy Dual County League opponent.
"Little flu, nothing too serious ... I mean, it was a little serious," joked Braganca, who is now up to a team-leading 14 goals. "But I came out and played, took my time when I needed it and scored when I needed to. I just got the ball down the sideline, I like my left side, and I cut in, got a little space and shot it top right. I've been working on that one."
It showed, as the shot was well out of the reach of Acton-Boxborough's keeper and sent the Beverly bench into a frenzy.
"For a guy at his level, that's all we can ask for, especially when he's sick," added Panthers' head coach Edgar de Leon, his team now 8-2-1 on the year. "Even when he's sick he's making an impact. We have the next couple of days to rest and hopefully he'll heal up before we pick back up on Monday. But he's going to make a difference whatever he does, wherever he is on the field. And he showed that today."
Prior to Braganca's decisive marker, Beverly faced an uphill battle after allowing two unanswered goals to the visitors. Both of those A-B scores — finished off by Judson DiMaria and Kyler Maira, respectively — came in the opening half after Berbic had scored first just 15 minutes in for Beverly.
Acton-Boxborough largely controlled play in that opening half, registering a whopping 13 shots on net and five corners, compared to just four shots and one corner for the hosts. But Panthers' keeper Nick Gribbins was tremendous between the posts, stopping 12 of those shots and making intelligent decisions overall from the back.
"He did a phenomenal job for us," de Leon said of Gribbins, who finished with 13 saves. "He saved some really good opportunities, even on some breakaways, that kept Acton off the board and he gave us the chance to at least get the tie. He was probably our player of the game today."
Gribbins did allow the two goals, but there was not much he could do about either one. The second goal in particular, came off a third rebound after Gribbins stopped the first two shot attempts with the attacker right on top of him in the box.
"Being a goalie, it's just all about confidence," said Gribbins. "That's one of my main goals this season is to improve my confidence back there and as a goalie you can't be hesitant. I wasn't today and ended up making some big saves for us."
After the break, Beverly visibly settled down and was even able to turn the time of possession factor in its favor. They allowed just two A-B shots on goal in the second half and only one more corner try.
Ian Visnick was particularly effective in the middle and defensively, thwarting A-B chances before they arrived and clearing the ball with regularity. Wilson de Leon did a nice job on the attack, nearly booting home a late goal of his own just before Braganca's equalizer.
The Panthers were still without senior captain and defensive rock Nick Fox — who was recently cleared to return to practice after nursing an ankle injury — but did have the luxury of deploying fellow senior Joseph Battistelli. The midfielder was playing in his just his second game this fall and gave de Leon some valuable minutes.
"He hasn't played all season and we're just working him back," said de Leon. "He was supposed to be ready to go a couple of weeks ago but he's been delayed with the ankle injury. But I think once Joey's fully 100 percent and his fitness level is back he's going to help us out a lot."
It wasn't a win, but a draw was the next best thing for Beverly who will need every point it can get before embarking on what they hope will be a lengthy Division 1 state tournament run.
"I think we could've played a little better, but they were a tough team," said Berbic. "We battled it out; we looked kind of tired from the beginning, we've had a lot of games recently so I think we could've played better. But it's a decent result for us. We just have to finish strong now."