SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 5, 2012

Matt Williams column: With loss to A-B, an era ends for Peabody

On Soccer Matt Williams
The Salem News

---- — PEABODY — Midway through the second overtime, Acton-Boxboro freshman Gabby Diorio scored the goal that ended an era.

Some ten minutes earlier, the Peabody girls soccer team thought it had the goal that should’ve extended that era — but didn’t.

The Colonials’ goal with 5:06 left in the second overtime of a Division 1 North first round game at Donahue Field sent the defending state champion Tanners off with a 1-0 loss.

Late in the first overtime, Peabody’s Victoria Digiacomo struck a rebound off a Kara Digiacomo free kick that appeared to tuck inside the near post. A-B keeper Kelsey Bourne caught it and the official on the far side ruled it hadn’t completely crossed the line and was not the winning goal.

Such is soccer, the game that can be at once beautiful and cruel.

“From our angle that ball was in, that should’ve been it,” said Peabody coach Dennis Desroches. “But what are you going to do?”

The Colonials, a No. 17 seed that won twice in a 30-hour span to advance to the North quarters, played like a team with a pedigree that includes the ‘08 and ‘09 D1 North titles. A few weeks ago, Acton-Boxboro snapped Peabody’s 38-game unbeaten streak with a 2-1 decision; for the Tanners to see them this early in the state tournament was a sure case of tough luck.

A-B pounced on its second life last night, using a Catherine Edmonds free kick that was saved to create the winning goal. The rebound shot went off the Peabody crossbar and popped out to Diorio, who put it in to end top-seed Peabody’s run at 17-2.

“To beat a team like Peabody twice, I’m bursting with pride for my girls,” said A-B coach Lee Billiard. “Absolutely delighted.”

For Peabody, in time, the details of last night’s loss may fade. The point blank shots by Victoria Digiacomo and Madison Doherty that Bourne saved and the rebound chance by Caroline Colbert that squirted inches wide late in regulation may muddle together along with a few great saves by Peabody keeper Caitlin Lodi and break-ups by defender Cayla Bucci that kept it scoreless.

For these Tanners, the devil is not in those details, but in an end that had to come. Fate held that it came last night, but whether it came in the first round, the North final, or a state final, the last game together for this group was going to be difficult.

Peabody’s core has been one unit for four years, some of them even longer than that. Hayley Dowd, Victoria and Kara Digiacomo and Bucci all started as freshmen. A number of the upperclassmen in this group won state youth soccer titles at the U12 and U14 level.

It’s a group that grew up together on the soccer field. Times changed — scrunchies in their hair became pre-wrap headbands, disposble camera photos gave way to Instagram and Umbro uniforms became Under Armour — but their bond didn’t.

“It’s extremely difficult. It’s hard to see them go,” said Desroches. “What they’ve done, in this area, is going to go unmatched.”

Peabody’s seniors leave with a record of 75-5-5. They won the school’s first state soccer title in 2011, and spent three weeks this fall at No. 1 in the NSCAA’s national poll. They were No. 1 in New England in nine consecutive polls.

It was the most dominant era by the girls soccer team the North Shore’s ever seen, led by perhaps the best player the area’s ever seen in Dowd. She heads to Boston College with 148 goals and 202 points, school and area records.

Winning back-to-back state titles wasn’t in the cards. It can’t be a coincidence that the Tanners won last year, having been prepared for the tourney by a tough non-league schedule they had to give up when the NEC decided to go to 16 league games this fall. Given the league’s results in the state tourney so far, it’s something the powers that be may want to revisit this winter. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Peabody senior Sarah Sousa had her best game last night, and nearly created the go-ahead goal with plays that drew to corner kicks early in the second half. Peabody outshot A-B 10-1 in the second half and first OT, but couldn’t score.

Almost is the most haunting word for soccer teams at every level. Take nothting away from A-B, which played with poise, guile and deserved to advance.

Still, when a defensive minded team upsets an offensive powerhouse like Peabody, the should-have-been goals leave an empty sense of what-if. The Digiacomo bid that looked like it was in the net especially.

“We made some changes in the second half that created some things,” said Desroches, who deployed the versatile and unselfish Dowd in a center-mid role in an adjustment that did everything but score. “We had some good looks, and if we put them away we’re not worried about that (late no-goal).”

The Tanners missed senior stopper Bianca Muscato, a three-year starter whose career was ended prematurely by a concussion. Freshman Katrina Silva was excellent, and Lodi, Doherty and Caroline Colbert are good building blocks for next year.

It’s going to be strange for the likes of Dowd, the Digiacomos, Bucci, etc. to play with other teammates in college next year. Things just don’t stay the same forever, they can’t. They’ll check each others college stats on Twitter and attend each other’s graduation parties and they’ll laugh about the good times, thinking about winning trophies too big for them to hold when they were little girls.

On Peabody’s last night together, soccer showed them that dreams don’t always come true. That’s not the lasting image of this truly rare group.

That’s reserved for the trophy case at Peabody High, where their ‘11 state championship and a plaque for finishing No. 5 in the nation sit.

Living proof of the time that they showed us that sometimes, those dreams do come true.

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Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.