Photo: Senior co-captain Serena Nally led Belmont to victory over Central Catholic, 5-3, Nov. 5.
In a game that saw three lead changes and the home team falling behind for only the second time this season on Harris Field, Belmont High School Field Hockey scored two goals in the final five minutes of the second half to secure a hard-earned 5-3 victory over an underrated Central Catholic High School squad in a first-round game in the Division 1 North Sectionals playoffs.
“Belmont will be paying for my early retirement,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Jessica Smith after the nailbiter that saw the Marauders (15-2) outshot the Raiders, 20-8.
Belmont’s senior leaders stepped up in the game as co-captain Serena Nally scored a pair and assisted fellow senior Kate McCarthy on the game winner while co-captain Maggie Thayer anchored the defense.
Belmont will host 5th-ranked Masconomet Regional High School (16-2-1), which easily defeated Haverhill, 5-0, on Thursday, at Harris Field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7.
Usually, a match between a 13 and 4 seed is not that competitive but Central Catholics’ record (10-6-2) was deceiving as their six losses came from only three teams in the strong Merrimack Valley League, losing twice to the likes of 17-win Andover, 15-win North Andover and Chelmsford with 13 victories.
“They were better than I expected. Not at the beginning but they turned it on later in the half. Their offense was powerful,” said Smith.
And it was Belmont that got off to dream start as the Marauders broke the ice just two and a half minutes in when Nally slotted in a shot by the Raiders’ goalie after a solo run.
“I just lifted it a little and it went to the far post,” said Nally.
And for most of the first half, the game was one-way traffic going Belmont’s direction as the Marauders’ pressure provided some golden opportunities for Belmont to put the game to bed early.
But for the remaining 27 minutes of the half, the Marauders’ drew blanks. Even when Belmont was awarded a penalty stroke midway in the half (essentially the equivalent of soccer’s penalty kick) the team’s leading scorer, junior AnnMarie Habelow, sent a screamer wide of the net.
“Everything was happening except for the execution at the end. Granted the goalie was good, she was there for the initial stops but we couldn’t get the touch on the ball coming through,” said Smith.
Late in the half, Central Catholic did not let their scoring chances go wanting, scoring from forward Mary Lambert with three minutes remaining in the half.
“At the beginning we were having a tough time finishing our shots. We had a lot of opportunities on their end from [penalty] corners and our passing,” said Nally.
And Belmont would pay for their missed opportunities as Central Catholic was awarded its penalty stroke, which the Raiders’ leading scorer Courtney Woronka buried five minutes into the second half.
Despite being behind for only the second time at home this season (the other time was against Watertown), Nally said the team never lost the confidence that they could not come back to tie and go ahead.
“Once we were behind, we realized we needed to turn it on and finish those balls to the post and tipping them in. We also did a good job talking and communicating and being open for one another,” said Nally.
Within six minutes, Belmont tied the score through freshman wing Morgan Chase, who slotted in a Nally push pass at the post. And the Marauders retook the lead two-and-a-half minutes later as Nally scored off a Habelow “bouncy hit that I got a little piece of it and I tipped it in.”
But the Raiders were not about to surrender as the Raider’s Casey Thompson navigated by four Belmont defenders on a 60-yard run before beating Belmont goalie Christine McLeod to tie up the score once again with 13 minutes remaining.
As Central Catholic took advantage of the momentum switch, Belmont’s defense stiffened led by junior sweeper Julia Chase, who stopped several attacks with one-on-one battles within the attack circle. Thayer, Molly Goldberg, Sophia Stafford and Lilly Devitt set up a rolling wall in front of McLeod, who made two good stops over the next five minutes.
Soon, Belmont took control of the ball and through Habelow and Nally put the pressure on the Raiders backline. It paid off with just under five minutes remaining when senior forward Kate McCarthy directed in the eventual game-winner off a pass from Nally who capitalized on a defensive lapse to steal the ball deep in the Raiders’ zone.
The Marauders kept the pressure on Central Catholic and scored an insurance goal with a minute, and change left as Bridget Gardner redirected a Habelow shot at the near post.
Two things Smith will be drilling to the girls at practice is scoring and more scoring.
“Every opportunity, especially in a playoff game, has to count. I hope this game results in them knowing that feeling a little bit more and knowing the urgency of scoring.”
“If we scored on just a few of our chances in the first half, I wouldn’t be having heart attacks in the second,” she said.