Most of the Panthers, including the goaltender, were wearing red Strike Out ALS shirts under their pads. They were gifts from Beverly resident Pete Frates, who is battling Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neighbor of coach Bob Gilligan and cheered his hometown Panthers on in person last night.
Between Mr. Birarelli, Frates, and even Gilligan's courageous and victorious battle with cancer, these Panthers have had to play for much more than themselves over the last four years. That's a lot to ask of high school athletes, and those situations bring emotions that can be heavy burdens to bear.
Beverly carried them with maturity and wisdom beyond their years. They rallied around those causes, while still remembering to play loose and to play for each other.
"We've been playing for a lot," said captain Connor Irving, who scored the game winning goal in the third period last night. "We remembered to play for ourselves too."
Medfield became the fourth straight Division 2 South champ to lose in the state final, but threw everything it had at Beverly's net along the way. Birarelli was at his best in the late going, though his most-eye popping save might have been his leg pad work on Matt Treiber's forehand-backhand deke when it was 1-1 in the second.
"Timmy's our MVP this year because goalie is the most important position. We play from Timmy on out," Irving said. "He's a rock back there. With what's going on with his dad, for him to play like that, is unbelievable."
The Warriors used the big ice at TD Garden to go wide and created more odd-man rushes than the Panthers wanted to allow. Birarelli stayed big in his crease, and never made the first move with those shooters bearing down on him. Most of Medfield's odd-man chances sailed high or wide because Birarelli's positioning didn't let them see the net behind him.