By Jean DePlacido
---- — PEABODY — It was Senior Night at Donahue Field last night ... and the Peabody High girls soccer team made sure the celebration lasted even after the game was over.
The Tanners clinched at least a share of yet another Northeastern Conference championship after defeating Salem, 4-1. They can win it outright by winning at Beverly tomorrow (4 p.m.) in a huge game for both teams.
At times this season the Tanners (12-1-3 overall, 12-0-2 NEC) have struggled to score, but that wasn’t a problem against Salem. After falling behind, 1-0, they answered with two goals in the first half and a pair in the second.
Senior captain Madison Doherty sparked the offense with three goals, marking her third hat trick of the season. Teammate Erika Nelson added a goal and three assists.
“We had a bit of a slow start, but credit that to Salem,” said head coach Dennis Desroches. “They’re a very aggressive team that put pressure on us early. There was a mishandled ball in front of our goal and they put it away.”
Caitlin Lodi came out of the Peabody net to separate Salem standout Alix Bryant from the ball, but Deema Hijleh pounced on it and booted a low shot into the net for the Witches’ only goal.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Doherty used her speed on a breakaway and beat Salem goalie Jaclyn Panneton after taking a long pass from Nelson, making it 1-1.
Seven minutes later that combination clicked again as Doherty blasted a shot into the right corner of the net past freshman Sydney Rocheville (who took over when Panneton was injured). Salem was already missing regular goalie Ariana Gaffney.
“Doherty was fantastic,” said Salem coach Fred Day, his team now 9-7-1 overall (7-6-1 NEC), with a big game against Lynn Classical at Salem State tomorrow (7:30 p.m.). “She has such great speed, and all three were nice goals. We’re pretty fast on defense, especially our sweeper Hayley Jellison, but Doherty was too quick.”
Day felt the turning point in the game came with 16 minutes left when Nelson was awarded a penalty shot and scored to make it a 3-1 game in the hosts’ favor.
“That PK hurt,” said Day. “I thought there was a hand ball against Peabody that wasn’t called right before that. It’s tough to come back from two goals down, especially against a team as strong as Peabody, but we gave them a game. I’m proud of my kids. We don’t have a lot of depth, but they all worked hard and gave a good effort.
“Hijleh had a strong game, and Sydney Hanford created a lot of opportunities at wing midfield. We’ve already qualified for the state tournament, but we want to finish strong.”
Doherty completed her hat trick in the final two minutes, and once again Nelson set it up.
“Erika’s an awesome playmaker,” said Doherty, who will play for Providence College next year. “I love playing with her. On the first two (breakaways) I took the pass and went straight forward on the attack.”
Lodi shared duties in net with Kristina Sholds, who took over for the final 18 minutes.
Desroches liked the way his team dominated play in the second half after taking the lead. “We really turned it up,” he said. “We not only kept possession, but worked hard without the ball.
“Nelson had an excellent game; she had some great through balls to find people making runs. Erika has great field vision. Our back line was very strong with Katherina Scacchi, Katrina Silva and Macayla Lachance. This was a very good win all around.”