By Jean DePlacido Correspondent
The Salem News
---- — BOXFORD — There is nothing more thrilling in sports than a last second comeback.
That’s what No. 2 seed Masconomet came up with on a bitterly cold afternoon. The Lady Chieftains were on the verge of seeing their undefeated season end at the hands of underdog Newton North (No. 7 seed) with no time left on the clock when they scored the biggest goal of the season to tie the game at one.
Masco then came up with an even bigger one to win in sudden victory, 2-1, to advance to the Division 1 North semifinals. The Chieftains will face Acton-Boxboro at Reading High later this week (the MIAA hadn’t announced the date last night).
The Tiger bench was jumping up and down, cheering wildly in anticipation of the upset victory when Masco was awarded a corner. They put the pressure on and were awarded another corner opportunity that paid off when junior forward Dana Balek beat Tiger goalie Ashley Caira to knot it up at 1-1 and send the game into overtime.
The 15 minute sudden victory period is played with seven against seven. It is something the Lady Chieftains (17-0-3) practice regularly anticipating the situation to occur in the tournament. Momentum was on their side after Balek’s goal, and it didn’t take long to decide the outcome.
“We tried different combinations of seven-on-seven in practice to assess who had the skills you need,” said Masco first year coach Leah Gunner. “We picked our seven for speed, stick skills, and endurance.”
With fewer players on the field the opportunities for long passes are much greater, and Masco’s speed was definitely a factor. Midfielder Julianna Kostas hit a long shot to Maddie Doyle, who found the back of the net at the 3:16 mark, and the celebration began on the Masco sideline. Gunner said Kostas sees the whole field well, has a hard shot, and exceptional stick skills.
“I just shot it as hard as I could, hoping it would go in,” said Kostas, who came very close to scoring on a similar play earlier in the game. “It didn’t go all the way through, but Maddie was right there to tip it in. This is awesome. When we got behind we knew we didn’t have a lot of time left, but we never gave up. We kept fighting and playing our game.”
The game was scoreless until the final 6:48 of regulation when Newton North scored on a corner. Ming Kibel got the goal with Nicole Quinn assisting. Five minutes earlier Kibel had gone in on a breakaway only to be stopped by Cat Hosman before she could shoot.
The Tigers tried to keep the ball in the Masco end and run out the clock which worked successfully until the final minute when the Lady Chieftains were able to clear it out and force a corner.
They got a good shot off, but Caira made a big kick save. Masco kept the pressure on, and forced another corner. Balek, who had come close on a few previous occasions, put a shot into the corner as her teammates swarmed the net.
“That was the biggest goal I’ve ever scored,” said Balek, who used her speed to force the ball up the wing all game. “We were disappointed when they scored, but we knew we had to get it back.”
The first half was fairly even, but the Lady Chieftains had six corner opportunities to Newton North’s two. The Tigers had defeated Peabody in sudden victory in the first round while the Lady Chieftains blanked Reading.
Masco began to dominate play in the second half led by senior captain Becca Phillips, who broke up Tiger threats time after time, and made pinpoint passes to teammates to get play going the other way. Masconomet kept up the pressure, and it seemed to be only a matter of time before they finished off their opportunities.
“Perseverance was the key today; that’s what it takes to get to the next round,” said Gunner, who has turned the program around after the team didn’t make the playoffs a year ago. “We were out of time when Dana scored. We have been talking about teamwork and perseverance, which is so important in close tournament games.
“Going into the corner we knew we had to work together and have our sticks low to knock it in. We came close on the first one (corner) and then were able to do it on the second.
The biggest cheer came from the Masco huddle when Gunner announced the team would have practice tomorrow. It was a close call, but the Lady Chieftains survived and move on.
“What a win,” said Gunner. “Doyle is one of the leading scorers in the CAL so it doesn’t surprise me she tapped one in, and Balek not only had that big goal but used her speed and skills up and down the sideline all afternoon.
“I can’t say enough about Phillips, who made so many outstanding plays on defense. She is critical to our team, a born leader. She’s patient and calm out there, playing the ball so well and making quick passes to teammates. Becca is an impact player, who had made a big difference for our team all season.”