BY Mike Pratt
---- — READING — The second seeded Manchester Essex Hornets (16-0-3) had a lot to live up to heading into yesterday’s Division 2 North semifinal tilt with Ipswich.
After an unbeaten regular season the Hornets were looking to get to the North sectional final for the sixth time in seven seasons and senior captain Brittany Smith and crew didn’t plan on having the tradition end at Reading High School.
Ipswich, which tied M-E during the season, started the game off strong but it was the Hornets that came away with another trip to the finals courtesy of a 2-1 victory.
The Hornets (17-0-3) now move on to the sectional finals to square off with Watertown (20-0 with 110 straight wins).
Ipswich started off strong with very good offensive attack but the Hornets defense, led by junior goalkeeper Haley Malloy, stepped up when they needed to.
Malloy made an enormous save at the 25:00 mark to keep the game scoreless.
It was then the Tigers defense, however, that ruled the first half it stopped a strong Hornets rush with 22:30 left in the half.
Two minutes later at 19:50, Ipswich senior captain and goalkeeper Ali Bouvier made a huge save off the stick of Smith to keep Hornets from scoring.
On the ensuing rush up the field Ipswich’s Maddi Hill broke the ice and put the Tigers on top 1-0.
The lead did not last long. Manchester Essex called a timeout with 9:44 to go and it paid off as Rachael Gallagher scored on a rebound, which was off a nice save by Bouvier, with 2:43 to go and tie the game at 1-1 heading into the break.
Smith came through at the 22:00 mark scoring the eventual game-winning-goal and final goal of the contest. But the fight did not end there. Both the Hornets and the Tigers had opportunities to score over the final 22 minutes of play but both defenses and goalkeepers came up big.
“It was a well fought game, by both teams,” Hornets head coach Kara Beauregard said. “It took us a little while to get going and I think it took that one goal (in the beginning) and us to be down to realize what we had to lose. After that I noticed a big improvement. They like to get my heart-racing with three minutes left.”
While disappointed in defeat, Ipswich head coach Sarah Merullo had nothing but praise for her team, which finishes the season with a 14-3-3
“I’m very proud of my girls, we had an incredible run and incredible season,” she said. “Obviously its heart-breaking to lose in any tournament game but how far they have came, over the past two years, is unbelievable. I’m so proud of them.”