By Matt Williams
---- — SALEM — As she cut to the net in the final minute of a tie game, Beverly’s Julia Nearis was thinking pass first.
So was Hingham’s goaltender, whose reflexes betrayed her as she moved towards Beverly’s Anna O’Neill at the opposite post. That opened up just enough space for Nearis to snap in the winning goal with 37 seconds left in a Division 1 first round game Saturday at Salem State’s Rockett Arena.
Nearis’ late tally, her 37th of the season, lifted No. 2 seeded Beverly over the Harborwomen, 3-2.
“Nicole Woods put up a big fight to get me that puck and I took a walk to the net. I was hoping to get it to Anna on the other side, but I shot,” said Nearis. “I was a little lucky. It feels great. It’s another step towards the Garden for us.”
The Panthers (18-2-2) advance to Wednesday’s state quarterfinals against Austin Prep at Stoneham Arena (time TBA).
Woods, who had a spinning, backhand goal in the first, became the fifth girl in Massachusetts girls hockey history to reach 70 points in a season when she assisted on Nearis’ winner. Beverly’s captain went crashing into the boards and pushed the puck to Nearis along the wall near the endline to set up the late tally.
“Julia’s great coming out of the corners. She’s strong and she’s got good reach and a knack for getting to the net,” said Beverly coach Brian Seabury. “That’s why she’s out there in the last minute, because of the way she can get to the net.”
It was Beverly’s third one-goal lead of the game, and Hingham (10-8-6) didn’t have time to strike back. Victoria Messina netted a power play goal with 57 seconds left in the second to tie it 2-2. Earlier in the second, Hingham tied it 1-1 on Katherine Saleski’s goal. Only 108 seconds later, Beverly captain Rachel Trocchi buried her third goal in the last two games to give the Panthers the lead back.
Beverly controlled play in the third, outshooting Hingham 11-1 in pushing for the go-ahead goal. Sophomore Anna O’Neill hit a post early in the third and had another tight chance denied by Harborwomen goalie Taylor Walsh later. On a late Beverly power play, Nearis had a blast from the blue line that was saved, and a Hingham defender kicked the rebound aside before Kristen McCarthy could sweep it into the cage.
“We wanted to keep the pressure up in the third,” said Nearis. “We knew we could win the game and we wanted to come out ready to go.”
Despite all that pressure, Seabury was most proud of his defense in the third. The forwards, and defenders Caitlin McBride, Anna Hayden and Rachel Spencer, made sure Hingham couldn’t take an odd-man rush the other way for a counter-attack.
“Defensively we were fabulous in the third. We kept coming and we held them at bay,” the coach said. “Even though we were tired, we stuck to it and did all the little things right. We kept our noses in it, tried to create turnovers and finally we got out.”
Woods opened the scoring 13:00 into the first when she skated into the offensive zone and spun around a defender to the front of the net. She stopped and flipped a backhand into the cage for her 30th of the season.
The Panthers, who are two wins away from a potential state final appearance at TD Garden, have won a state tournament game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
Hingham played stout defensively in limiting the Panthers to 22 shots on goal. Beverly goalie Madison Jalbert had seven saves in her first postseason start, but they were difficult stops that often came on odd-man chances.
“They were a physical team, moreso than us, and we matched their intensity,” said Seabury. “We’re happy to move on because Hingham is a program that’s really been something for the last 10 years. It’s another notch for us in terms of the kind of program we’re trying to develop.”
Beverly 3, Hingham 2
Division 1 first round
at Rockett Arena, Salem
Hingham: 0 2 0 — 2
Beverly: 1 1 1 — 3
First period: B, Nicole Woods (Julia Nearis), 13:00.
Second Period: H, Katherine Saleski (Arden LaLiberte, Olivia Messina), 11:10; B, Rachel Trocchi (Izzy Straw), 12:58; H, Victoria Messina (Catherine Linehan), ppg, 14:03.
Third Period: B, Nearis (Woods), 14:23.
Saves: H, Taylor Walsh 19; B, Madison Jalbert 7.
Records: H, 10-8-6; B, 18-2-2.