Photo: Morgan Chase (6) passes to Bridget Gardiner (center in white) for Belmont’s third goal vs Masco Regional.
Two goals by junior sensation AnnMarie Habelow and a smothering defense was more than enough to send Belmont High School Field Hockey to the Division 1 North Sectional semifinals as the 4th-ranked Marauders dominated 5th-seed Masconomet Regional High School, 3-0, in a quarterfinals matchup at Belmont’s Harris Field, Saturday, Nov. 7.
“Everything happened the best way it possibly could, defensively and on offense. They couldn’t compete with you today,” said Jessica Smith, Belmont’s head coach while congratulating the team.
“I’m psyched. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this game,” said Smith, adding that she wanted the team to win this game because it proves that Belmont “deserves the four seed.”
“We’re coming from the Middlesex League, maybe the towns aren’t as big but in the past few years, Belmont is really proving itself as a solid field hockey school in the state. Year-after-year we make it a couple of rounds (in the playoffs) and now it’s time to take the additional step and be one of the great ones,” she said.
While the game was supposed to be a wide-open affair between two athletically-inclined teams, Belmont (16-2-0) would command long stretches of the contest while keeping Masco, the Cape Ann League Kinney champions, on their heels especially in the first half when the Middlesex League Liberty titleholders outshot the Lady Chieftains, 14-1, and had seven penalty corners while Masco would go the entire game without a penalty corner.
And it was the fifth corner when Belmont took the lead when Habelow – who ended the afternoon with nine shots – took the inbounds pass from sophomore forward Bridget Gardiner and rocketed a shot from 15 meters past senior goalie Amanda MacPherson-Peachy with 11 minutes left in the half.
“The big thing about the game before (a 5-3 victory over Central Catholic on Nov. 5) is we didn’t score on any corners, and they are a time you have to capitalize and I took advantage of that today,” said Habelow, whose play especially in the defensive midfield was critical for Belmont’s quick transition to offense.
Masco were playing a slower more deliberate game, sending all but one player into the defensive zone when Belmont came within the 25-yard area from its goal, then push up players while delaying their restart until they were in position.
“It’s really hard to maneuver inside but sometimes that makes it easier because they will bump into each other so when you beat one person, you’re actually beating two,” said Habelow.
The Chieftains’ tactic worked in the Marauders’ favor as it allowed Belmont to set up its defense, clogging up the passing lane. Led by co-captains midfielder Serena Nally, Lilly Devitt, Sophia Stratford, Meron Power and the two Molly’s, defenders Goldberg and co-captain Thayer, thawed many Masco passes and attempts at dribbling the ball and by the Marauders’ ability to quickly close down on the attackers.
Offensively, senior forwards Kerri Lynch and Kate McCarthy, sophomore Bridget Gardner and freshman Morgan Chase harassed the Masco defenders on their outlet passes while taking ever opportunity to rush the Chieftains’ net.
“What it was is that we were passing to each other and they were hitting the ball and hoping that somebody would pick it up. And we were ready for that, so our kids were moving to the ball just like their players,” said Smith.
Not helping Masco was playing all but two of their previous games on a grass pitch, as opposed to the uniformity of the Harris Field “Turf” pitch.
“You have to be so much faster on ‘Turf’ and I think their style of play was to bring everyone up and back, and you can’t keep that up on an artificial field because the ball is moving so much faster,” said Smith.
Down a goal after the first half, Masco came out running and passing, keeping the ball in Belmont’s end for the first three minutes.
But a quick turnover at midfield led to Belmont’s first corner of the second half and Belmont second goal as Habelow from a step within the scoring circle slammed the ball from Molly Goldberg by a charging MacPherson-Peachy for a 2-0 lead after five minutes.
Masco now dedicated players to the offense leading to it best scoring chance as senior defender and co-captain Tessa Ives made a stellar solo run to within 10 meters of Belmont’s sophomore goalie Christina McLeod (her 11th shutout this season) but her pass never hit a stick as it went skating by the net.
The final time Masco came close to threatening Belmont’s goal was with 12 minutes remaining when a midfield miscue saw five Lady Chieftains racing towards Belmont’s goal. But Julia Chase stepped in front of the first attacker taking the ball and with it Masco’s momentum.
Belmont sealed the game in the final minute when Morgan Chase squeezed a pass by MacPherson-Peachy’s pads to a wide-open Gardiner on the far post.
Belmont’s semi-final opponent will be known after the match between one seed Acton-Boxborough and 8th-ranked North Andover taking place on Sunday, Nov. 8. If the Marauders meet Acton-Boxborough, ranked 11th nationally by Max Field Hockey, it will be a game of taking advantage of every chance provided.
“When you play a team like Acton-Boxoboroug, you don’t know how many times you’ll have offensive opportunities and working on those. It’s also making the offense understand how important every touch is in the scoring circle which I think we improved a lot this game,” said Smith.
“Defensively it will be practice on moving our feet and forcing them out wide. And just being confident because you play the game because you don’t know who’ll win,” said Smith.
Habelow noted that Belmont has some experience with highly-touted teams.
“We’ll prepare for them just like we did for Watertown (the fifth-ranked team in the country and undefeated in 160 games). We respect the best teams like it’s an honor to play the nationally best teams because it makes us better and it makes the entire program better,” said Habelow.