By Matt Williams
---- — LYNN — In championship soccer, set pieces are either a blessing or a curse.
Saturday in the Division 2 North girls semifinals, they were the bane of the otherwise nearly flawless Beverly High girls soccer team.
Concord-Carlisle converted a corner kick with 1:57 left in overtime to dash the Panthers’ state title dreams with a 2-1 decision at Manning Field.
Beverly, the defending Division 1 North champs, led 1-0 deep into the second half, but the Patriots knotted it up with 12:53 to play. The Panthers (16-4-2) had some pressure in overtime, but fell when C-C freshman Tessa Abbott’s corner was redirected into the net by sophomore Madeline Leahy.
“It’s our Achilles’ heel. I think 75 percent of the goals we gave up this year were on corners,” said Beverly head coach Kristin Simpson. “For some reason, we’ve always struggled defending those corners.”
It was a sudden and surprising end for a Beverly team that won 47 games the last three years. The senior core of captains Diandra Crowley, Caitlin Harty, Casey Cook and Kristen O’Connor led the team to its first-ever North title a year ago and a share of their first Northeastern Conference title in 15 years this fall. In addition, Harty graduates as Beverly’s all-time leader in goals and points, having broken her coach’s 13-year old records.
“I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve never seen a group like this. They’re the best leaders you could ever ask for,” said Simpson, who coached a number of the seniors in youth soccer since they were eight years old. “I can’t say enough about these girls and what they’ve done.”
Concord-Carlisle (13-2-4) advances to face Wilmington in today’s Division 2 North final.
The Patriots weathered an early storm Saturday as Beverly had eight shots on goal in the first half, then four in the second and only one in the overtime. Both the wind and C-C’s subs might have played a role in the momentum shift.
“We have a very deep bench and think we can run teams hard all over the field,” said C-C coach Peter Fischelis. “We knew Beverly was a very good team and we had to key on their players and play them tough.”
Cook gave Beverly the lead in the 18th minute. Harty’s pass sent her into the box and she did the rest, making one defender miss before deking around the goalie for a 1-0 advantage.
Set pieces weren’t just an issue on defense for Beverly. The Panthers had two free kicks from inside 30 yards in the first half and didn’t score, and also couldn’t convert on two corners of their own. Credit the Patriots for finding a way to mark Harty and Eva Gourdeau on those opportunities.
“That No. 6, Cailtin, is just tough. Beverly is really strong and physically tough, so those free kicks were a challenge for us,” said Fischelis. “But we handled it pretty well.”
Throughout the first half, Beverly’s Meghan Berking, Maddie Curran and Gourdeau were winning loose balls in the middle of the field and feeding Cook up front. Harty had a breakaway saved by C-C keeper Angela DeBruzzi with the Panthers up a goal.
Concord-Carlisle started shifting play in the second half. The Beverly backline of Kadrianna Letts along with Crowley, O’Connor and Sarah Visnick avoided trouble for the most part, and goalkeeper Kyra Wolonsavich made some key saves (8 in all) along the way.
“They possessed the ball and we were giving them too much time to kind of do what they wanted with it,” said Simpson. “Concord’s a great team. It was a back and forth game and when they started winning the 50/50 balls, it started going their way.”
Patriots senior Abigail Gramaglia tied it in the 68th minute when a pass across the box from Maggie D’Eramo found her alone on the left side. Wolonsavich’s didn’t have time to dive across and suddenly the game was knotted up.
“That’s how it is in the tournament. One mistake, one roll of the ball,” said Simpson. “It happens fast.”
In overtime, C-C was shading towards Cook and gave Gourdeau some room to operate. She dribbled into the box twice, missing with her own shot and feeding Berking for a point-blank bid saved by DeBruzzi.