By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — There were chances struck wide and great saves; there were displays of speed on the wing, crisp passes and plenty of staunch, physical defense.
Goals were the only thing missing in last night’s anticipated Northeastern Conference girls soccer game between Peabody and Beverly, which was infinitely more entertaining and competitive than the typical scoreless draw.
Both teams had excellent scoring chances denied in the last six minutes of the 0-0 contest under the lights at Donahue Field.
The Panthers (5-1-2, 3-0-2 NEC) came in as the more experienced offense and it showed in the second half. Beverly outshot the hosts 4-3 in the final 40 minutes and had three corner opportunities. Peabody’s defense, led by senior Alex Lomasney and keeper Caitlin Lodi, as well as superb underclassmen Katherine Schacchi, Katrina Silva, Aly Demeo, held their ground with outstanding poise.
Beverly’s shot total of six was misleading because their three best chances sailed wide. Two of those came off the foot of Eva Gourdeau and were deflected, and senior Caitlin Harty struck one wide as Lodi came out to challenge her with only six minutes to play.
Generally, though, the Tanners (4-1-1, 4-0-1 NEC) played composed, full-field defense. They refuse to give Beverly the space they needed to create scoring chances, with slide tackles and strong transition the norm.
“Beverly has two Division 1 athletes that can put the ball in the net with the best of them,” said Peabody coach Dennis Desroches. “I couldn’t be more proud of our defensive effort. To keep a team like Beverly off the board takes everybody.”
Most of Peabody’s scoring chances came in the first half, though Erika Nelson blasted one that Beverly keeper Kyra Wolonsavich punched away with four minutes left. The Tanners had nine shots on goal in the first half and just three in the second, with three of their four corner chances coming in the first 40.
“We always seem to have jitters and you could tell in the first 15 minutes we were panicking a little,” said Beverly coach Kristin Simpson. “In the second half we settled down and we gained momentum.”
The Panthers were playing without one of their captains, Kristen O’Connor, who is day-to-day with an injury. Fellow captain Diandra Crowely (who had several important plays on defense) handled the free and direct kicks, and junior Meghan Birking impressed filling in the middle (as did Caitlyn Munzing).
“The thing we can really take out of this is that a lot of people stepped up to fill that spot and I was really happy to see that,” said Simpson.
Led by senior Madison Doherty, the Tanners controlled play at the outset. The Providence-bound midfielder used her speed to break in on the wing on several occasions and if not for a few nice saves by Wolonsavich and the defense of Crowley, freshman Kadrianna Letts and Sarah Visnick, she certainly would’ve given her team an early lead.
“Madison is attacking more this year and you’re also seeing her come back 15-20 yards defensively. She’s relentless,” said Desroches. “I thought Caroline Colbert did the same thing and our youth showed on our scoring opportunities. Over the course of the year, we’re going to put some of those away and it takes games like this to gain confidence.”
Peabody’s Lodi made six saves in all and Wolonsavich totaled 12 stops.
The Tanners, who have not lost in NEC play since Oct. 21, 2010, have a half-game lead because they beat Lynn Classical, a team Beverly tied. It’s likely the league title will come down to the Tanners/Panthers rematch scheduled for Oct. 25 at Beverly High.