NATICK, Mass. – The only blemish on Needham girls’ soccer’s regular season schedule was back in the second game of the season in a defeat to its Division 1 South quarterfinals opponent, Natick. The Rockets are much healthier at this point in the season and, on Tuesday night, turned the tables to reach the sectional semifinal.
Kira Oberle scored the winner and Rachel Kingston added a late goal on the break, as No. 5 seed Needham pulled out a 2-0 victory over No. 4 seed Natick on a cold evening at Natick High.
Needham head coach Carl Tarabelli praised the depth on his squad as crucial to the Rockets (12-1-7) having the energy to stay with the Herget division champions, especially coming off an overtime win in the first round and with one day less rest than the Redhawks.
He explained, “I went 18 deep into my bench today and it was a team effort; it was a complete team effort. Although I have some very, very talented players, our strength is our depth and we had to use it tonight.”
Natick head coach Lisa Wilkins admitted that there were no secrets between league rivals and it was clear from the start that Needham had a specific game plan to attack the Redhawks (12-3-4). The Rockets used width, especially down the Needham right, to avoid Herget MVP Carly Wilkins at the heart of the Natick defense.
In the opening three minutes, Kingston sped down the far side line and cut the ball back to the edge of the 18 for Oberle, who set herself but struck the post going for the bottom corner. A few minutes later, it was Alanna Bollas getting down the right side for the Rockets and she picked out Kingston, but the sophomore struck a shot just wide.
Defensively, Needham pinpointed Herget division leading scorer Haley Reddish as the person that spearheads the Redhawks attack and had Natalie Wong shadow her throughout the game. Just four minutes in, Natick had a big chance, but midfielder Danielle Ranucci’s shot from close range was closed down and blocked by Rockets keeper Emily Bowers.
Natick keeper Devan Malcolm was called into action 12 minutes before halftime. She dove low to her right to palm aside a shot from Kyra White. Wong also headed a chance narrowly wide off of a late free kick. Tarabelli was concerned with all the missed opportunities.
“I was a little nervous,” he said. “We hit the post and then we had a sitter that went wide. I was just thinking that this can’t be a re-creation of the game against Bridgewater-Raynham.”
Needham stormed out of the gates in the second half with Kingston getting several chances in the first 10 minutes out of the break. Natick turned up the pressure on the Rockets, especially after a cramp forced Wong to the bench for a few minutes midway through the second half.
With her marker on the bench, Reddish finally found a little room and sent in a corner that tipped off the bar, before a corner from the other side found her on the edge of the box and she again struck the woodwork. Ranucci also had a chance that went narrowly wide for the Redhawks.
“I thought we played outstanding in the second half,” said Wilkins. “The first half we were a little disorganized, but in the second half I thought we had equal opportunities for each team and they just capitalized and we didn’t.”
Not long after having its cross bar rung twice, Needham took the lead. Again pressure down the right touchline caused problems for the Natick defense and gave the Rockets a dangerous free kick. Kayla Steeves, who became increasingly dominant in midfield over the course of the game, found the head of Oberle and she placed into the corner to make it 1-0.
Wilkins noted, “I basically knew when we got into the second half that whoever gets the goal was going to win; that it was going to be 1-0. Their second goal was because we were pushing for the tying goal.”
With only three minutes remaining, and Natick becoming increasingly desperate to find an equalizer, Needham struck again. Sophomore Emma Spector picked out her classmate with a through ball and Kingston made no mistake with a shot across the keeper to wrap up the victory.
Kingston, who missed a large portion of the regular season with an injury, scored the overtime winner in the first round and was a consistent threat to the Natick back four. Tarabelli would not single her out after the game; he said that all of his forwards are a threat in every game and that is what makes Needham tough to defend.
“She’s just one piece,” he said. “They all bring something different. I go six deep up top. She’s fast and she’s talented, but I got six strikers and you can’t pick one because if you do then one of the others will get you.”
Statewide tournament notes from Tuesday:
Needham will advance to play the top seed in D1 South, Franklin, on Thursday in Medway. The other side of the bracket includes No. 2 Bishop Feehan and the Cinderella story of the tournament thus far, No. 19 Walpole. The Rebels advanced to the quarterfinals with a pair of penalty kick victories, both after scoreless games, but on Tuesday afternoon beat No. 6 North Attleborough, 2-0, on the road. Steph Lund and Lauren Regan had the goals for Walpole, which needed to win on the final day of the regular season just to qualify.
While Walpole’s win was impressive, it was not the biggest upset of the day. The top-ranked team in the ESPNBoston.com state wide girls’ soccer rankings was beaten in the D1 North semifinals. A lone first half goal by Acton-Boxborough’s Alex Spangler, which was described on Twitter as a bicycle kick, was enough for the Colonials to beat undefeated Central Catholic. It was the fifth goal allowed in the last three games for the Raiders, after allowing only one in their first 17 games. The win by Acton-Boxborough also denied a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the sectional finals against Newton North, which eased past Masconomet, 5-0, in the early game on Tuesday.
On the boys’ side of D1 North, Acton-Boxborough was unable to reach the sectional semifinal after a 1-0 overtime defeat to No. 2 seed Madison Park. The Boston City League team advances to the semifinals to take on last year’s D1 North finalist, St. John’s Prep. A rematch of last year’s final is still in the cards after top seed Somerville continued its stellar play with a 4-0 win over a talented Brookline team thanks to a Thayrone Miranda hat trick. The Highlanders will need to go through No. 13 Malden in their quest to repeat as sectional champs, after Malden beat No. 12 Lowell, 3-2, in overtime.
D1 South has a pair of marquee matchups in the semifinals with Top 10 opponents squaring off on both sides of the brackets, although in the case of New Bedford just barely. The Whalers, the No. 4 seed and fifth-ranked team in the Top 25, needed a goal by Klisman Sousa in the final three minutes to cancel out a goal by Franklin’s Joe Kalil and send the game to overtime. After a nerve-wracking 20 minutes of sudden death and another six rounds of penalty kicks, New Bedford advanced to face top seed and No. 1-ranked Silver Lake, which has outscored teams 11-2 to get this far. On the opposite side, Needham and BC High will get a rematch of their meeting during the Bay State Conference/Catholic Conference tournament, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
Several marquee teams are still alive in Division 2 as well. Caitlin Harty continued to build her resume for Player of the Year with a hat trick to lead Beverly over Woburn and into a semifinal against Concord-Carlisle. Masconomet, which dropped down to D2 this year, also won 3-0 to advance to the semifinals. Both were teams that exceled in D1 last season and will be hoping to make similar waves in D2.
The first of the 2012 state champions to be knocked out was the Medfield girls. The Warriors scored the opening two goals of the game against top seed Scituate, but the Sailors stormed back with four goals to advance in the D2 South sectional. In fact, there will be a completely new D2 South final this year after Dartmouth defeated Duxbury, which was ranked in the Top 5, 1-0. Scituate will face No. 5 Sandwich in the semifinal and the Indians will take on No. 2 seed Notre Dame (Hingham), which survived overtime against Holliston on Tuesday.
Shocking news came today for the Palmer boys’ team in D3 West after it was determined that the team had accumulated five cards during its first round game with Hampshire. Palmer had won the game 2-0, but because of an MIAA rule that limits the amount of cards a team can get in a single game, it will forfeit the victory. Hampshire advances to the sectional semifinal and will take on top seed Belchertown. MassLive.com had the initial report.