Photo: Belmont High players celebrates Lola Rocci’s (No. 4) game winner as the Marauders defeated Arlington, 1-0, in the first round of the MIAA Division 1 state field hockey championship.
Belmont High junior forward Lola Rocci slotted a pass from senior co-capt. Devin Kelleher for the games only goal 17 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the 13th-ranked Marauders a hard-earned 1-0 shutout victory over 20th-ranked Arlington High at Harris Field on Friday, Nov. 4 in the MIAA Division 1 state championships.
“That was a whole team win,” Belmont Head Coach Jess Smith told the team after the well deserved first-round victory over the co-ed SpyPonders. “It wasn’t our best play but you put all the effort out there.”
Belmont (11-4-3) will travel more than 50 miles past Worcester to Wachusett Regional High to battle the 4th-ranked Mountaineers (15-3-2) at 6 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8. Wachusett defeated Durfee High, 3-0, on Friday in its first round match.
Having met league opponent Arlington twice in the season – a 4-1 home win and a 3-3 draw away – there was no expectation that familiarity would breed contempt by the Marauders as the SpyPonders came into the playoffs on a high, recording a 4-1-2 record in its final seven games including a defeat of top-ten Reading and ties against playoff bound Winchester. Much of Arlington’s improvement came as the result from the inclusion of two young men, seniors Austin Cronin and Sean McCadffrey, whose speed and strength allowed the SpyPonders to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball, including freeing up impressive sophomore forward/midfield Libby Corsetti to play a major role on defense while driving forward on offense.
Arlington started the game on the front foot, pressing Belmont in the first half as the Marauders relied on its defenders – junior Alex Townsend, senior co-capt. Willa Sama and senior Alina Maier – and junior goalie Julia Herlihy to hold the fort as the Marauders got off on its now typical slow start.
“We have to start off with our best and not go better, better, better than best,” said Smith.
With the SpyPonders exploiting the left side of the field, Belmont midfielders junior Tess Desantis (on the critical right side), senior co-capt. Layne Doherty and freshman MacKenzie Clarke fell back to assist the defenders who kept the ball off of Arlington’s sticks. Twice in the first half Herlihy stoned Arlington forwards at her doorstep, once clearing the ball from the goal line. Only in the final minutes of the second quarter did Belmont have a pair of strong attempts at Arlington’s goal.
If Belmont starts a match with the “lack of urgency” expected from a tournament team, according to Smith, the second half of matches has been Belmont’s time to take charge. The Marauders began winning the 50/50 balls and turned up its offense that was equally impressive down the wings and through the middle.
With the game in the balance, Belmont grabbed the lead at the start of the fourth. Receiving a pass from junior Carly Gaziano, Kelleher raced 35 meters up the heart of the SpyPonders midfield before pushing the ball to the on-rushing Rocci who buried the ball just inside the left post.
For the remaining 14 minutes, Belmont continued to press its advantage while limiting Arlington’s possessions with its collective defense. Its stalwart performance was highlighted by a critical sequence in the final minutes when Arlington’s Cronin broke through a gap in the Marauder midfield with only Townsend between him and a clear breakaway. But Cronin’s attempt to play a long ball and sprint to the goal was thawed as Townsend – a starter on the 2021 state rugby championship team – stood her ground cleanly stopping the ball as Cronin stumbled by.
The final minutes saw the Marauders capitalize on its doggedness to keep the ‘Ponders’ at bay. The team rushed Herlihy at the final horn as Belmont celebrated its first playoff victory since 2018.