Oakmont ousts Frontier
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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Entering Wednesday night’s Massachusetts State Division II Field Hockey Tournament semifinal, the biggest concern facing WMass champ Frontier Regional School was supposed to be the offense of CMass champion Oakmont Regional High School. But it was the Spartans’ defense that was the difference-maker.
The Oakmont back line held Frontier to no shots on goal and knocked the Hawks out of tournament play with a 2-0 victory at Clark Field.
This marked the second straight season the two teams met in the state semifinals, and Oakmont entered with virtually the same roster, missing only one or two players from last year’s team that held Frontier to just one shot in a 1-0 overtime victory that sent Oakmont on to the championship game, where the Spartans lost to Watertown High School, 3-1. In that game, the Red Hawks struggled to even move the ball in their offensive half of the field.
The second time around proved to be another frustrating night for the Frontier offense, even though this time the Red Hawks (15-5-1) did play with significantly more possession in the Oakmont zone. Despite long spurts of pressure, the Hawks were never able to get anything through on Oakmont goalie Kayla Costa, who did not touch the ball until the final two minutes, when Frontier took a long shot that was well outside the circle and would not have counted had it gone in the net.
“They had an extremely strong defense and we had a tough time getting through them and connecting on balls,” Frontier captain Sydney Judge said after the game. “But our defense did a great job tonight.”
While the Frontier offense struggled to break through, it did not take Oakmont long to grab the lead. The undefeated Spartans (17-0-3) controlled play early and broke through for a goal when senior midfielder Kathryn Nutting played a low, hard shot toward the net from just inside the top of the circle. The ball bounced around in front and Oakmont forward Rachel Testa finally got a stick on it, slapping it out of the crowd and off the pads of Frontier goalie Gwen Thayer, who had no chance on the play and could only turn and watch as the ball trickled into the net for a 1-0 lead just 4 minutes, 10 seconds into the game.
“You never want to start a game and shortly into it give up a goal,” Frontier coach Missy Mahar said. “I think we sat back a little on our heels after that goal. But then the girls came around, they realized there was the remainder of the first half as well as the second half to try and capitalize and come back. You can’t fault their effort. They played to the end.”
Oakmont continued to pour on the pressure in the opening 10 minutes of play but Thayer (eight saves) was up to the task in the Frontier net. The goalie, who had to make just one save in two WMass tournament games, kicked out a point-blank chance by Oakmont’s Sarah Morse two minutes after the goal, then made perhaps her best saves of the night around the eight-minute mark, stopping a shot from Nutting at the top of the circle, then making good in the same sequence on a rebound chance from Arianna Robichaud.
“Gwen played very well for us,” Mahar said. “We talked about it going into the game. We said, ‘Gwen, remember last year. You got peppered and you kept us in the game and you had some amazing saves last year. Expect to get shot at, you’re going to get pressured today.’ But I think she composed herself well.”
Frontier turned the tides shortly after the 10-minute mark, when it earned back-to-back corners — the only two it got all game. The second corner produced a cross from Brenna Sicard, but the ball was hit high and went across the front of the net without a good resulting scoring chance.
The rest of the half saw the two teams play evenly, with Frontier holding a slight edge in possession. That carried into the second half, where Frontier came out and held the edge in possession. But the team was unable to get any shots and Oakmont managed to regain control. Then the Spartans’ first sustained chance of the half produced the game’s second goal. Oakmont earned a corner and got a shot from the top of the circle that Thayer kicked out. The Frontier defense was unable to clear the ball and Nutting played it to the right of the net, where Tara Harrington dove head first and swatted the ball into the cage as she went down to the ground.
Oakmont continued to pressure and iced the game by limiting Frontier to few chances upfield the rest of the way. The Red Hawks lose just three players — Judge, Jordan Rowe and Amy Hanas — and should continue to be strong next season.
“I played with an amazing group of girls,” Judge said in regards to the season. “We had really good chemistry on the field and I think we usually play as a unit very well and I’m going to miss them.”