D1 South Girls Lax: Westwood 12, Needham 9

NEEDHAM, Mass. -- Laura McHoul comfortably worked her position behind the net as she eyed for cutters.

A slight sag in the defense showed and the midfielder whipped a pass inches from the defender's net and into Kate Rich's grasp. As the two senior captains connected for the winning tally it became a sight all too familiar for the Wolverines' opponents.

Running its offense from its two senior stars, No. 3 Westwood (22-2) girls' lacrosse bested top-seeded Needham (22-2) 12-9 at Memorial Park yesterday in a Division 1 South finals rematch.

The win advances the defending state champs to play North champion Lincoln-Sudbury (23-1) at Babson College on Monday.

“We have a good connection on the field, so I trust it when I pass it too her,” said McHoul. “She just gets her stick open and she is tall enough that I can lob it in.”

Added Rich, “(We) don't want to stop playing."

Rich netted four, while McHoul assisted five and scored two. The seniors produced the go-ahead goal at 12:13 in the second half, while adding insurance with a pair of unassisted backdoor cuts.

“We wanted for everyone else to clear through,” said Westwood coach Leslie Frank. “We try to take advantage of the weakest defender and to get those matchups on Kate and Laura. When they happen, they have to go.”

Twice trailing by four to open, the Tri-Valley champs battled back to even by running quick plays off draws. A side net pass from McHoul to Rich evened the score at 5-5 with 4:39 left in the first half, while a two-on-one counter-attack assist from Ela Hazar (three goals, two assists) to fellow sophomore Jamison O'Neil gave the Wolverines' their first lead up 8-7 at 22:01 in second.

The two teams would equalize two more times, before Westwood pulled away.

Forcing the Freebies: The Rockets, who had previously not beaten Westwood since 2002, won their regular season matchup 12-10 at home by forcing 10 goals off set pieces. Creating penalties were big offensively again for Needham

in the rematch, as the Rockets scored all but one tally off a set-piece, including its first four finishes.

A one-timer from sophomore Kira Oberle to teammate freshman Carly Colman out of a penalty gave the Bay State Carey champs their largest lead up 4-1 fifteen minutes into the first.

“We just try to play less physical defense,” said Frank. “However, it is impossible (to avoid) at this level. They are so hungry for it and

they have come so far.”

Annee Time: Goalie Annee O'Connor has been the foundation for Needham's defense all season. The keeper made 10 saves to keep the Rockets alive on Friday, with a majority coming face-to-face with a shooter.

Needham coach Beth O'Brien cited the twenty minutes each practice she spent working with O'Connor as a reason for her success. A period she called "Annee time."

“We do reaction drills where it is rapid fire and a lot of the time we use tennis balls,” said O'Brien. “Low to high, crease work, and just lining up to rapid fire balls. That is something we have not done before.”

Tough Road: L-S will be the third straight opponent ranked in the top five of ESPNBoston's statewide poll that Westwood has faced.

The Wolverines lost a road thriller, 13-12, to the Warriors earlier in the season, but eliminated the the DCL Large champs in the previous year's state semifinals by a 15-7 margin. Westwood was the top seed in the South last year.

“I guess we are the underdogs but we are not done,” said McHoul. “We are ready to fight all the way.”