HAMPDEN — Faith isn’t always blind, as evidenced by Washington Academy’s run to a second consecutive Class C boys soccer state championship.

After graduating 15 seniors from last season’s title team, the Raiders ran through both the regular season and the playoffs this fall, culminating with Saturday evening’s 5-1 win over Monmouth on Hampden Academy’s McGraw Field. It was the 36th consecutive victory for WA.

Manuel Sanchez-Rios and Yves Manzi, both senior strikers, each had two goals in the win.

“It’s tears of joy, to be back and win another Gold Ball,” said senior midfielder Oneko Lowe, who had three assists officially but was involved in some capacity in all five Raider goals. “In the beginning of the season, I had a doubt (about repeating). But I saw the quality that we had and you wouldn’t believe it, but I think this year’s team had a better chemistry.”

The season finale was disappointing, obviously, for Monmouth (14-2-2). But with three seniors, including Hunter Richardson fittingly scoring late in the second half to pull the Mustangs to within 3-1, head coach Joe Fletcher was able to look at the overall picture.

“That’s a really good team. That’s the best offensive team we’ve played,” Fletcher said of Washington Academy. “They put a lot of pressure on us, and they deserve that (Gold) Ball.

“Hunter, Matty (Foulke) and Travis (Hartford) have a never-say-die attitude and they wouldn’t let our younger players give up and stop playing hard. We’re certainly going to miss our senior class, but we’re already looking forward to next year.”

A free kick in the 15th minute set WA up for its first goal, with the left-footed Lowe driving a low shot on Monmouth goalkeeper Bradley Neal from just outside the top of the 18-yard box along the arc. Neal (11 saves) dropped to his knees to meet the ball and make the save, but when he couldn’t handle the sizzling bid, Khiari Sharrieff-Hayward ran onto the loose ball for a 1-0 lead.

Six minutes later, the Raiders produced a goal that head coach Chris Gardner called the “prettiest goal that I have seen in all my years of coaching.” Lowe had the ball with space in the dead center of the park, and he played a long service into the box for the streaking Sanchez-Rios. Without breaking stride, and with Neal holding steady on his line, Sanchez-Rios one-timed Lowe’s through ball out of the air and into the upper corner for a 2-0 lead.

Sanchez-Rios, who added a second goal in second half stoppage time, finished his season with nine goals in his last three playoff matches.

“You have to believe that you can do it,” Sanchez-Rios said. “Oneko is some insane making those kinds of assists. He’s the best at it. We’ve done it before. We have chemistry. We understand each other.”

Lowe said once he saw his teammate running onto goal, he made the only decision that made sense.

“All I saw was the defenders going for one striker, so I knew that I just had to give the right ball,” Lowe said. “I’m very happy he put it away. They tell me, ‘Always have faith in your players.’ So that’s one thing I always have, I always have faith in everybody on the field.”

“That set up beautifully,” Gardner said. “It’s not coincidental that Oneko Lowe was the kid who sent it, because he’s a kid who understands the game and understands space and where to put people. Manu Sanchez is a tremendous playoff player for me. Dead stride. That was dead stride. That was as pretty as they come, and that was a big goal for us.”

Like Washington Academy, Monmouth had good reason to have faith in itself, even after falling behind two goals midway through the first half.

Manzi gave WA a 3-0 lead 65 minutes in, but Richardson responded just two minutes later after being pressed forward into a striker position from his customary central midfield role. Fletcher’s choice to adjust his formation to create for offensive pressure paid off in the second half, at least early on, as Monmouth generated two dangerous chances from Foulke that nearly connected.

“At halftime, it was 2-0, and we told the boys that whoever scored next goal might win that game,” Fletcher said. “We played quite well for about a 20-minute stretch there, and we started generating opportunities. I thought we’d be OK, but then they got that other goal, that backbreaker, and went up (3-0).”

As the contest wore on into the late minutes, however, the Raiders tacked on goals from Manzi and Sanchez-Rios to balloon a final score not entirely indicative of how the game had gone.

“We only had two starters (back) from last year so it wasn’t even a continuation of that team,” Gardner said of WA’s run to a second straight title. “But all those kids that sat behind and watched those guys last year stepped up. I don’t think anybody thought that we were going to come in and do it again in this fashion. Could we be competitive? Sure. The kids surprised me, and all the credit is theirs.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC