LYNN — Maybe it really is the year of the Panther.
Beverly scored on all four of its penalty kick attempts to beat Central Catholic, 2-1, and claim the program’s first Division 1 North championship here at Manning Field yesterday.
The Panthers (18-3) overcame a 1-0 hole with Caitlin Harty’s 50th goal of the season and hung on defensively with junior keeper Casey Cook coming up with 19 saves.
“This is amazing. This all came from the heart today,” said senior captain Becca Kemmer, holding the North trophy as she iced and unwrapped her injured wrist. Kemmer embodied the one-for-all approach of these Panthers, playing with a cast on her wrist.
Beverly will play unbeaten Franklin (20-0-1) Wednesday at Manning Field (5:30 p.m.) for the right to advance to the D1 state final.
For 100 minutes, previously unbeaten Central Catholic (15-1-4) forced the Panthers to defend the entire field. There were plenty of close calls, with Cook robbing Maggie Carey in the first overtime and Aly Spencer hitting the post in the second OT.
“In terms of technical play, they might have been the better team,” said Beverly coach Kristin Simpson. “But like I told the girls, when you get this far, it’s about who wants it more.”
Harty nearly won it with a breakaway saved by Central’s Lauren Flynn late in the second OT. The Panthers played better in the second of the two 10-minute sudden death frames because they had the wind.
In PKs, Harty, Eva Gourdeau and Kristen O’Connor all scored to put Beverly ahead while Central’s Carey and Spencer missed wide. Diandra Crowley then stepped up and driller her shot into the net as Beverly won the shootout, 4-1.
“I didn’t know we could win on my kick, I was so focused and so nervous,” said Crowley, a junior captain. “After I scored I saw my team rushing at me and it hit me that we’d won. What a feeling.”
Cook — “Our wall back there,” said Kemmer — played off her line and kept the Panthers in it as Central pressed early. The Raiders finally cashed in when Alex Nagri scored assisted by Spencer in the 31st minute. Central had 11 of its 19 shots in the first 40 minutes.
Beverly’s defenders — O’Connor, Crowley, Kemmer and Nicole Krisch and midfielders Meggie Manzo, Sarah Visnick and Allison Collins — stepped it up in the last 60 minutes to even possession.
“We started yelling at them a little bit and then we started winning those 50/50 balls,” said Simpson.
A well-placed through-ball from Rose Terner gave Harty a line to the net early in the second half. She knifed behind two defenders and shot it over the goalie to level the score in the 43rd minute.
“I could feel the defender on my right and I just wanted to get to the ball and get it on net,” said Harty, who has a goal in every tournament game and seven of Beverly’s eight postseason tallies. “It was a great ball from Rose.”
Beverly limited Central for four shots in the second half plus another four in the overtimes. The Panthers also successfully defended seven Central corners.
The Panther seniors have come a long way in a short time, leading a renaissance that ended a three-year state tournament drought last season. This year, Beverly won its first tournament game since 2007, has its most total wins since 1997 and capped it with the program’s first-ever North title last night.
“Anything is possible, but when the season started I didn’t think I’d be standing here (as North champs). Words can’t explain how hard these girls worked for this,” said Simpson, one of Beverly’s all-time greats as a player as well. “Beverly’s a great community, a great school and these girls deserve this. It seems like its finally our turn.”
“This is the best feeling, probably of my life,” Harty beamed.