By Phil Stacey
---- — READING — A corner was awarded with about three minutes to play in overtime, and the ensuing free hit found the stick of Beverly’s most explosive player, Nicole Woods.
A Division 1 college player headed to Louisville on scholarship, Woods cranked a low, hard shot along the turf surface towards the Acton-Boxboro goal. Seemingly labeled for the bottom left corner of the cage, Colonials’ goalkeeper Kathryn Salemme somehow sprawled to her right, reached out with her right arm and managed to stop the Panther captain’s blast with her stick.
And then, in a flash, it was all over for the Panthers.
The top-ranked and unbeaten Colonials transitioned the ball upfield quickly as Leah Cardarelli got by the Beverly defense. She was taken down just in front of goalkeeper Felicity Otterbein, resulting in a penalty stroke with 2:43 to play. That’s where her older sister, senior Eleana Cardarelli, buried it for the game’s only goal, giving A-B a 1-0 victory in the Division 1 North semifinals.
“We absolutely brought everything we had to this game,” said Beverly head coach Trish Murphy of her six-time defending Northeastern Conference champions. “To come in as the lower seed and go scoreless through regulation and almost all of that 15-minute overtime with the No. 1 team in the state ... I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
Beverly finished its season at 17-3-1, with two of those losses coming to the defending state champions from Acton-Boxboro.
“We’re honored just to be playing them,” veteran A-B coach Mae Shoemaker said of Beverly. “One break was all that separated us.”
With four Division 1 college players on their roster — Eleana Cardarelli will be at Providence next fall while her sister, along with fellow junior Maggie Bettez (an Under-17 National Team player) are both already ticketed to the University of Michigan while senior Cara Conery is bound for Sacred Heart — the Colonials (now 20-0-1) were as good as advertised. They controlled the flow of the contest for long stretches, held a decisive 18-6 advantage on corners and played with the poise of a team that has played in, and won, big games beforehand.
But the fourth-seeded Panthers were unfazed. Despite losing to A-B, 3-1, just 12 days earlier, they proved resilient and never wilted no matter the situation.
“We were a lot calmer in this game,” said Murphy, whose team finished with seven shots on goal (to A-B’s 8). “We wanted to cover their passes and put pressure on the ball at every opportunity, and for a good part of the game I think we were able to do that.”
After a first half in which the Colonials dominated — Ottenbein, a senior captain, kept it scoreless at the break with a big kick save just before intermission — Beverly regrouped and played much better over the second 30-minute stanza by generating scoring chances and clamping down on defense. Senior MaryCate Flaherty had one of the Panthers’ best scoring chances in regulation, rushing up the right wing and putting a shot on goal that led to a corner. Both Woods and Flaherty had chances off the ensuing corner, but a scramble out front produced no scoring.
When overtime arrived and the play was trimmed down to 7-on-7 — thus opening up the field a bit — Beverly continued to press A-B and put two shots on goal while producing three corners. But it was the Colonials who converted on their only shot of the extra session.
“We had been working on those long lead passes up the sideline,” said Shoemaker, referring to the clear that set Leah Cardarelli streaking in alone on Otterbein. “When she was taken down on the play, we asked Leah if she wanted to take the shot. But Eleana has taken all but one of our (penalty strokes) this season ... and I’ve never, ever seen her miss.”
“A lot of our players were up (in the offensive end) on that play because of the previous corner,” said Murphy. “Playing 7-on-7 can present problems that way if the ball gets going the other way quickly.”
Murphy praised the play of her team defense, particularly sophomore Marissa Laganis (in only her second year playing), senior sweeper Sam Lingren and sophomore Alicia Cecchini.
“I think our program has definitely succeeded,” said Murphy. “We played four non-league games against great competition to challenge us, and it brought us to this point. (Aside from winning), I couldn’t ask for a better outcome.”