Sweet 16 Shocker: Belmont Girls’ Hockey Upset Three-Seed Lincoln/Sudbury In Quarters, 4-1, As Costa Stops 44 Shots

Photo: Belmont/Watertown goalie Jil Costa readies to pounce on a loose puck during her team’s game vs. Lincoln/Sudbury

It was a nightmare start for Belmont/Watertown Girls’ hockey goalie Jil Costa against heavy favorites Lincoln/Sudbury Regional High in the MIAA Division 1 state championship quarterfinals.

In its first rush up the ice, Lincoln/Sudbury’s junior Ally Quinn split the defenders and sent a wrist shot to Costa’s glove side, handcuffing the sophomore netminder. The puck sneaked by and rolled on its side into the back of the net.

1-0, Warriors, after 50 seconds.

After this goal, Belmont’s Jil Costa stopped the next 44 in the 4-1 upset of Lincoln/Sudbury

“Once it went in I was a little confused, to be honest,” said Costa, one of the standout goaltenders in the state allowing less than a goal a game – 16 goals in 20 games – this season.

But rather than replay the goal in her mind, “I immediately just got it out of my head. I ignored it as if it didn’t happen and I just had to focus on the next shot,” she said.

And from that point onward, it was lights out as Costa would stop all 44 shots she faced while her teammates scored three goals in the final four minutes of the first period propelling 14th-ranked Belmont to a thrilling upset over third-seed Lincoln/Sudbury, 4-1, in the Sweet 16 contest on a rainy Saturday night, March 2, in West Concord.

Belmont Senior Mia Taylor scored the game winning goal in the first period

“We played our game, relying on [Costa] to keep it close and help her out by scoring just enough to win,” said first-year head coach Brendan Kelleher.

Belmont (15-2-3) will next meet fellow upstarts Archbishop Williams (11-10-2) from Braintree in an Elite Eight matchup on Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m., 53 miles from Belmont in far-flung Kingston (which is basically west Duxbury). The 11th-seed “Archies” sent sixth-ranked Methuen packing, 2-1, on a late goal Saturday.

Saturday’s game was decided in the initial 15 minutes as Belmont withstood a continuous onslaught from the quick Warrior forwards. But it was Belmont’s approach to Lincoln/Sudbury’s overtly-aggressive game plan that proved to be the Warriors’ undoing.

Belmont’s first goal came courtesy of senior co-Capt. Lola Rocci on the power play as she slotted a Gigi Mastrangelo pass by L/S eighth grade goalie Lauren Kennedy to level the score at one.

Belmont’s Lola Rocci circling the L/S net during the team’s 4-1 upset victory

With less than 90 seconds remaining in the period, Belmont struck for a pair. Despite defending a Belmont power play, the Warriors kept pushing players into the Belmont end. But when the Warriors lost the puck in the neutral zone, second line seniors Mia Taylor and Ruby Jones jumped to create a two-on-one counter with Taylor capping the break with the game winner.

“it was just keeping that intensity up no matter who’s on the ice … and always go for it and that created the goal” said Taylor.

And it wouldn’t be a Belmont game without an outstanding solo rush and goal by Marauders’ leading scorer, senior center Maddie Driscoll, who hit the back of the net while shorthanded in the dying seconds of the opening frame to leave the ice leading 3-1.

Up by two with a half hour to play, Lincoln/Sudbury kept the pressured on Belmont’s back line and Costa yet the Marauder defensive pairs – with a great deal of assistance from the forwards – withstood each Warrior rush without surrendering ice in front of the Belmont goal and pushing Warrior forwards outside the slot so shots were taken from a safe distance.

“We were told ahead of time they had an aggressive forecheck,” said senior co-Capt. Aislin Devaney. “Our defense did a really good job blocking shots, getting the puck out, and keeping bodies on them which made it easy for [Costa] to make saves.”

Through it all, Costa was as cold as the ice surface making save after save, leaving Lincoln Sudbury players slamming their sticks onto the ice in frustration or looking to the heavens for Divine Intervention that never came.

“A lot of practice just [having a] laser focus on the puck and … just make the save,” said Costa.

Belmont’s Evie Long (second from right) scoring the fourth goal of the game late in the third

It was left up to sophomore Evie Long to put a ribbon on the upset. After receiving a pinpoint drop pass from Driscoll, the winger scooped up her own rebound and backhanded Belmont’s fourth tally high into the net with four minutes left in the game.

“We’re keeping the rink open,” said assistant coach Josh Gilonna, borrowing a phrase used by Belmont Boys’ Hockey during a recent deep run in the tournament. “We’re going to play again.”

Driscoll’s Winner In 2OT The Difference In Belmont/Watertown’s 1-0 Victory Over Billerica In Div. 1 Playoff Opener

Photo: Belmont/Watertown’s Molly Driscoll in action against Billerica/Chelmsford

A wrist shot from Watertown High Senior center Molly Driscoll that sent the puck slowly dribbling into the net 30 seconds into a second overtime period gave Belmont/Watertown a 1-0 shutout victory over Billerica/Chelmsford in the first round of the MIAA Division 1 Girls’ Hockey tournament held on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Playing on her home ice at the John A Ryan Rink in Watertown, Driscoll received a pass from her fellow co-captain, winger Lola Rocci, as both teams were playing three-a-side. The Boston University-commit in field hockey redirected the puck through Billerica/Chelmsford goalie Giovanna Gulinello’s pads which then took its time to cross the goal line for the only score of the night.

Belmont’s Jil Costa in net vs Billerica

“It was Molly Driscoll doing what Molly Driscoll does,” said Belmont Head Coach Brendan Kelleher about the senior center’s heroics. He praised Rocci on Belmont’s rush up the rink “carrying the puck up ice with a [player] draped all over. She has nothing in the tank but she kept her feet moving the whole time. She got free and fed it to Molly.”

“It was a great high school hockey game,” said Kelleher in his inaugural season leading the team. “Give Billerica a lot of credit. When you get to those sudden victory games, someone’s got to win, and someone’s got to lose. The paying spectators got their money’s worth.”

Fourteenth-ranked Belmont/Watertown (14-2-3) now advances to the Division 1 “Sweet 16” where it takes on 3rd-seed Lincoln/Sudbury Regional (17-2-1) in an afternoon matinee on Saturday, March 2. The puck drops at 5:30 p.m. at the Valley Rink in West Concord.

No place for the faint hearted in the crease

On the other end of the ice sophomore goalie Jil Costa earned her 10th shutout of the season, keeping a clean sheet for 51 minutes and 30 seconds as she spearheaded another defensive masterclass from a team that has given up a measly 15 goals in 19 games. The best of her clutch saves was with five seconds remaining in the first overtime when Costa swatted away with her stick blade a high puck heading towards goal, a reaction “that’s got to be on [ESPN’s] SportsCenter Top 10 plays,” said Kelleher.

Fronting Costa was Belmont’s defensive pairings – its core made up of Thea Monovich, Aislin Delaney, Martha Dimas and Elsie Larkin-Schultz – which continued their solid coverage they have provided the entire season, preventing clean breaks and keeping the majority of shots coming from the outside.

“I can’t say enough about pairs; they just play a great game again and again. We’ve got senior leadership back there along with freshmen that don’t playing like freshmen. It’s a confident group,” said Kelleher.

Belmont First Year Defender Elsie Larkin-Schultz

Belmont’s Player of the Match was first year defender Larkin-Schultz who provided coverage along the blue line while making a spark on offense, weaving her tall frame into the Warrior’s defensive zone.

While Billerica – a young team with just a pair of seniors while putting three 8th graders and seven first years on the varsity team – had their moments attacking Costa, Belmont had nearly double the shots taken by the Warriors. In the end, it would be left up to Driscoll, Belmont’s leading scorer and the most skilled player on the night, to end the contest.

Kelleher said while he would like to see a balanced scoring attack with all three lines – and a few defenders – getting on the scoring sheet.

“Nothing gets easier this time of year. It’s the old survive and advance. We came with the mindset that we will be back for another game.”