LYNN, Mass. -- The incredible tournament run of the Beverly Panthers continued on Sunday afternoon at Manning Field in Lynn.
The No. 4 seed Panthers took home the girls’ Division 1 North sectional title, 2-1 (4-1 in penalties), over No. 3 seed Central Catholic. All four Beverly penalty-takers made their shots, while Central missed its first two shots.
Captain Diandra Crowley calmly slotted home the final penalty setting off rapturous celebrations from her teammates and the large Beverly contingent in the stands.
The Panthers (17-3-1) reached the shootout thanks largely to a superb performance from goalkeeper Casey Cook. The junior netminder made a series of important saves including two in overtime robbing Alli Wiggins and Kylie Regan of game winners.
Beverly head coach Kristin Simpson was in awe of Cook’s play.
“She was by far the MVP of this game. We would not be where we are without her. She made some amazing saves towards the end and kept us in the game.”
The Panthers needed Cook to play well as Central Catholic (15-0-5) dominated large portions of the game, particularly in the first half. Wiggins, Regan, and midfielder Alexa Poulin pulled the strings in the center of the park and kept possession almost entirely in the Beverly half of the field.
It took half an hour, but Central Catholic was able to make the pressure pay with a goal from Alex Nagri off a great pass by Courtney Walsh. Raiders head coach Casey Grange was disappointed that her team was unable to find a second score.
“I thought we were going to get it eventually," Grange said. "This team has been patient all season in terms of scoring. We’ve always found a way to find the back of the net, but unfortunately the soccer gods weren’t on our side today."
Beverly equalized immediately after halftime through record-setting junior striker Caitlin Harty. The forward was raced on to a long pass and was able to chip the ball over the onrushing keeper despite being surrounded by two defenders.
Unbelievably, it was Harty’s 50th goal of the season, which is by a large margin a school record.
Simpson credited an improved effort by her team for changing the tone of the match after halftime.
“The biggest thing was the effort," she said. "We were losing the 50-50 balls and they were outworking us. We started yelling at them a little bit and they started winning some of the 50-50 balls and I think that made the difference.”
Central Catholic had a great chance to win the game in regulation, when Wiggins sprung free on a break following a Beverly corner, but her shot came back off the crossbar.
The Raiders will not advance in the tournament but will finish the season unbeaten (penalty shootouts do not count as losses but as draws). Amidst tears on the sideline, Grange spoke about the impressive season that her team had in 2012.
“Technically we tied and we haven’t lost all season so it’s a tough way to go out," she said. "Our defense was rock-solid, we have the top three scorers in the MVC, but unfortunately we didn’t get one when we needed it.”
It will be an all-Panthers match on Wednesday evening at Manning Field when Beverly takes on Franklin in the state semifinals. The game is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.
DIVISION 1 NORTH FINAL: SOMERVILLE 1, ST. JOHN'S PREP 0
In the boys’ D1 North sectional final, the Somerville Highlanders beat St. John’s Prep 1-0 through a goal by star forward Felix De Bona two minutes into the second half.
The final score was not a true reflection of how dominant Somerville was on Sunday afternoon. The Highlanders created numerous chances, particularly the potent DeBona, but were repelled by Prep goalie Ben Alpern.
On the other end, Somerville’s defending was solid and Prep struggled to create any clear cut chances.
It has been nearly 20 years since Somerville had reached this stage of the tournament. Highlanders head coach George Scarpelli explained that he focused on keeping Prep off the board in the first half and then using the wind after the break.
“If we could get the zero in the second half then something’s going to happen and it worked out. We should’ve put some more chances away and that’s something we need to grow on for the next game because I’ll have a heart attack if we do that again.”
St. John’s Prep head coach David Crowell raved about the performance of Alpern, who took over the starting role when captain Brian Keogh was injured prior to the season.
“He kept us in the game and gave us the chance to get the tie and send it to overtime," Crowell said. "But we didn’t really produce any chances in the second half. He was awesome today.”
In reaching the finals, Prep defeated two of the top five teams in the state (No. 4 Acton-Boxborough and No. 1 Masconomet) and Crowell was surprised at his team’s nervousness in the finals.
“I don’t know why we were so tight," he said. "We’ve already come in and beaten so many good teams. I think they felt some pressure today. Somerville deserved it today.”
The Somerville players were spurred on by a huge traveling contingent of fans, which created a great atmosphere for the game. At the final whistle, the players recognized the contribution of the fans by racing over to celebrate right in front of the stands. Scarpelli believes that this result is important not only for the soccer program, but for the city as a whole.
“I don’t think people realize how much this means for the city of Somerville.," he said. "For these kids to realize that if you do the right thing, everything falls into place. Winning comes along with doing everything right and going to school on time and being a good citizen. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Somerville will play in the state semifinals on Wednesday night at 7:30, at Manning Field.
State Tournament Notes:
• There will be a new boys’ state champion in Division 1 this year. Two-time defending champ Ludlow Lions, perennially one of the best teams in the state, were beaten in the West sectional finals by Amherst 1-0 (7-6 in penalties). The Lions had a chance to win it in the end, only to see the shot saved. Amherst will move on to play Leominster, the surprise champions of the Central sectional, in the state semifinals on Wednesday night.
• The Franklin Panthers have continued their amazing unbeaten season and took home the South sectional with a 3-2 win over fellow Hockomock team, Oliver Ames. Franklin built a 3-0 lead early in the first half, but were forced to hold on late when the Tigers scored twice within 90 seconds late in the second half. Panthers top scorer Kristi Kirshe did not get a goal in the win and is still stuck on 99 goals in her career.
• Somerville will face the top seed in Division 1 South, the Needham Rockets, in the state semifinals. Needham earned a hard-fought 2-0 victory over conference rivals Weymouth. Senior captains Nolan Brady and Brandon Miskin getting the goals for Needham. The Rockets are a talented group front to back and, with the losses by Masconomet and Ludlow, can make a strong claim to be the best team in the state. Having one of the state’s best players, forward Mac Steeves, certainly helps their cause. Wednesday night will be exciting to watch Steeves and De Bona go head-to-head.
• As colleague Bruce Lerch tweeted earlier today, what a great year it has been for Dave Wainwright. He led the Dover-Sherborn girls’ soccer team to a state title last season, brought them back to the sectional finals this year, and also led the Needham boys’ lacrosse team to Harvard Stadium in June. While the Lady Raiders may have been beaten today, the boys’ team clinched the sectional title with a 3-0 win over top seed Nantucket.