By Phil Stacey
---- — BEVERLY — Caitin Harty isn’t the reigning Player of the Year in Northeastern Conference girls soccer and owner of 94 goals over the last two seasons because she can’t handle a little adversity.
So after being marked, followed, bumped, bruised and generally harassed by a bevy of North Andover defenders yesterday afternoon, it seemed fitting that the favorite of Harty’s three goals was her final score, coming with a minute to play.
“I was struggling in the second half, to finally find my feet and put the ball in was a good feeling,” smiled Harty, a senior captain whose trio of tallies powered second-seeded Beverly High past the Scarlet Knights, 3-1, in a Division 2 North first round playoff game.
Beverly avenged one of its only two losses this season by taking the lead less than seven minutes in and never trailing thereafter. While the visitors had stretches where they controlled play in the first half, it was the Panthers’ resiliency and skill that won out.
“This shows how far we’ve come in a few weeks since we last played them,” said the Holy Cross-bound Harty. “It was a hump we had to get over.”
Now 15-2-3 on the season, Beverly will host Woburn (a 7-0 winner over O’Bryant yesterday) in the North quarterfinals tomorrow at 2 p.m. The 10th seeded Tanners are 11-5-3.
A year removed from reaching the Division 1 North final and with many of their top players back, the Panthers have rightfully set their sights high again this November.
“We have more talent this year, more focus and energy,” senior captain Casey Cook said. “Even though there’s more pressure on us (this season), I think we can handle the pressure.”
Since head coach Kristin Simpson altered the Beverly lineup by putting Cook up front with Harty (”we’ve been playing together since we were 8 years old,” said Cook), moving Syracuse commit Eva Gourdeau back to midfield and freshman standout Kadrianna ‘Kage’ Letts from center back to outside back, there’s been more team cohesion and symmetry.
“Having Kage and Sarah (Visnick, a sophomore) at outside fullback plus (senior captains) Kristen (O’Connor) and Dee (Diandra Crowley) on the inside, that gives everyone confidence,” said Simpson. “All week at practice we were specifically working on our defense, and I thought we did a really good job of eliminating how often North Andover was able to attack us.”
“Everyone is fitting into their positions, and that’s really what we need,” added Harty, who has 44 goals this fall. “It’s the perfect time for our time to realize that.”
Harty got the scoring started less than seven minutes in, burning down the right sideline and firing a shot that North Andover keeper Meg Collins stopped before Harty knocked in the rebound. A little over nine minutes later, though, Stephanie Stabile tied it for the Scarlet Knights when her shot from the far side of the field found net.
Thirty-three minutes into the first half, Cook and Harty combined to give Beverly the lead for good. Picking up a loose ball at the 50, Cook flew down the left sideline and cut inwards before hitting a streaking Harty with a perfect pass. The diving one-time shot beat Collins cleanly for a 2-1 lead.
“The play’s never done,” Cook said of gaining control of the loose ball that led to the goal. “I knew right when I got into the box that Caitlin was making a run and put it right on her foot, and she put it in the net.”
Panther junior Kyra Wolonsavich was stingy, stopping eight shots while making sure the visitors never got a chance to climb back into the game. Midfielders Meghan Berking, a junior, and sophomore Caitlyn Munzing (the latter Beverly’s only substitute) were also praised by Simpson for their fine play.
“These girls, they’re just so intense. They want it so bad, especially the four captains,” said Simpson. “They set great examples in practice, and that carries over into games.”