Senators ousted on late goal
NORTHAMPTON — It’s hard to make a wet and raw day like Thursday feel bleaker, but Northampton High School field hockey player Emily Allcroft found just the thing to make it even worse for Mahar Regional School.
With the WMass Division I Field Hockey Tournament quarterfinal on the verge of going to overtime, the Blue Devils’ senior knocked home a shot with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game following a brief scrum in front of the Mahar goal and third-seeded Northampton eliminated sixth-seeded Mahar, 1-0, on a downright miserable day on the campus of Smith College.
With the clock running down under six minutes, the game was quickly beginning to look like wit was destined to be decided in either overtime or by strokes. Things turned in favor of the Blue Devils (13-4-2) very quickly, however, and it all started in their own end. Following a Mahar (10-8-1) restart 25 yards out from the Northampton goal, the Blue Devils forced a turnover and quickly pushed play up the field to the Mahar end. A shot came in from just inside the top of the circle to the right of the Mahar goal, and Senator goalie Brian Rivers (nine saves) attempted to kick the ball away from the front of the goal. The netminder was unable to get a solid kick on it, and the ball wound up in a mess of players, those on Mahar trying to swat the ball clear of the circle while Allcroft and Reiily Griffin from Northampton tried desperately to drive the ball toward the goal. Just as all top scorers seem to do, it was Allcroft who wound up winning the battle, and the ball got past Rivers for the first time all day, with Griffin picking up the assist.
“I didn’t see it but one of the girls said that she kicked it in, the other team kicked it in,” Mahar coach Lauri Saisa said. “She said, ‘Coach, it shouldn’t have been a goal. I just think it was utter mayhem in there.”
The goal came as the result of a strong second-half effort by the Blue Devils, who gained momentum at the end of the first half and carried it over into the second. Northampton held a decided edge in time of possession in the final 30 minutes, although it did not result in a lot of shots, as the Mahar defense, most notably Amber Meehan, stood tall and denied Northampton entry into its attacking circle.
“I was very proud of them,” Saisa said. “Amber was a rock star today on defense. Her stick was like a magnet to the ball. It was just a great game, I was proud of all of them, and I can’t say that I think one person broke down mentally or physically on the field today. They all played well.”
It wound up coming down to one final chance, which was exactly what Northampton coach Sarah Williams continually told her players as a form of encouragement.
“We kept knocking at the door, knocking at the door, and I just tell my girls that it’s continuous,” she explained. “You keep doing it and keep trying it until you get it, and they didn’t give up on it because their ultimate goal is to come out on top.”
The fact that the game was played at all was somewhat surprising, given that it was raining steadily for the opening whistle and never let up, as the precipitation continually fell, varying only in degree from steady to heavy. While many of those who braved the cold, rainy conditions donned umbrellas and raincoats to keep comfortable, the conditions did not seem to affect play on the artificial turf field.
The thing that affected both offenses was the defenses. Much of the first half was played between the top of both circles, with each team feeling out the other, meaning little in the way of shots or quality chances. Rivers was called upon to make one pad-save in the opening minutes, but that was the only quality scoring opportunity for either team until the final minutes of the first half. Northampton got its best chance late when Emily Biggs fired a shot from the top of the circle that clanged off the post to the right of Rivers. The rebound shot back in front of the Mahar goal but the defense cleared it out of danger.
Mahar’s best opportunities came on the counterattack, but Blue Devils defense thwarted each opportunity. And the two times the defense was unable to prevent Mahar from shooting, Northampton goalie Dana Dufour was up to the task, stopping both for the shutout.
Mahar ended the season with a loss in the Division I tournament for the fourth consecutive season, each time moving up from Division II due to having boys on the team. It’s a situation the Senators will likely be in again next fall, with both boys on the team in their junior seasons.
“It is frustrating, but honestly, I have to say this again, sometimes I feel like I play better against D I teams than I do in my own D II, because I don’t belong in D I” Saisa said. “I could have carried 35 players on my roster and today I brought 19. That says enough right there. We don’t belong in Division I. So that’s frustrating, but I think we play better against Division I teams.”