By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM – On paper Salem State was a huge underdog against a once beaten Gordon College team that had won nine in a row and is ranked No. 24 in the country, but the Vikings played a solid game from start to finish to win, 1-0.
The Salem State women are now 5-4-1 while the Fighting Scots are 11-2. The Lady Vikings were coming off two disappointing losses, but they were able to slow down a very fast Gordon team.
“This was a great game and a big win for us,” said SSU coach Nicolle Wood. “We just had two losses in a row because we didn’t play a full 90 minutes. Against Framingham State we gave up two quick goals, and did the same thing against Plymouth State. We came back in that one, but lost in overtime.
“I think we learned from those losses, and came out ready today. Gordon is in the top 25 in the nation, and the girls understood that we had to have a complete effort from everybody in order to win. We don’t have any one big leading scorer; we have to do it together as a team.”
Before the game at Alumni Field there was a moment of silence for former SSU athletic director John Galaris, who passed away last week. The first half was pretty even with the Lady Vikings having the better scoring chances.
Sophomore forward Kelly Birchmore of Swampscott tested Gordon goalie McKenzie Dion with a hard low shot, but the keeper made a diving save. After intermission Salem State dominated play and had several nice runs.
Dion denied Veronica Poirier 10 minutes into the second half to keep the game scoreless, but Salem State kept the pressure on, and in the 63rd minute Beverly’s Sara Previte made a nice pass to Birchmore, who was streaking down the left wing. She fired a high shot into the right corner of the net that Dion had no chance to save. Dion made five saves in the game.
“That was a great goal,” said Wood. “Before the game I told them we needed a complete effort from everybody; do their jobs and play their position. I said if that happened somebody would be the hero, and it was Kelly.
“We were missing Kelsey Delaney (senior captain) in the back, but Leah Wood did an amazing job directing things back there. Amy Griffith (Middleton/Masco) continues to dominate in the middle, and Casey Connolly (Swampscott High) had a great game up front. We worked very hard all game, but you have to finish and Birchmore did.”
Wood said she was worried about Gordon’s speed, especially Taylor McSherry and Kendra Woudenberg, but by playing strong positional soccer the Lady Vikings were able to neutralize the faster Fighting Scots and keep the pressure off goalie Rachel Ledbetter.
“Give all the credit to Salem State,” said Fighting Scots coach Marc Whitehouse, who is in his 28th year at the helm. “That’s a very good team, and they played a strong game. No excuses; they forced us to make mistakes. They were the better team today, and they are well coached.”