By Dan Harrison
---- — PEABODY — The Peabody boys lacrosse team was huddled during a timeout in sudden death overtime last night against Salem when one of the assistants asked head coach Anthony O’Donnell if the Tanners had anything special left.
O’Donnell didn’t hesitate.
“I told him, we have Keifer Heckman,” said O’Donnell.
Peabody’s All-Northeastern Conference attackman got the ball low to start the play, jogged to his left behind the cage, and then curled up the left-side of the net on a simple, isolation play from X. Heckman didn’t get much separation, but he fired a shot with his off-hand past Witches keeper Will Meadowcroft to give the Tanners a 16-15 win in a wild, up-tempo NEC bout.
Heckman, who finished with five goals and three assists, has grown accustomed to having his number called in the big moments of games. Peabody finished the regular season at 11-9 after scoring a huge win at home on Senior Night.
“In the huddle coach (O’Donnell) said to me ‘Keifer, just pick up the ball. You got this,’” explained Heckman. “I’ve been in that position before. That’s really it.”
Whether it was the wet conditions or nerves, the game’s slow start was a surprise considering the offensive talent both squads boast. But in the second quarter, both offenses took over and between the third and fourth quarters, 22 goals were scored.
“I think it was a little bit of nerves for both teams,” said Salem (11-8) head coach Anthony Nardella. “We both like to push the ball and play in transition. We certainly like to push the ball.”
Lightning caused the halftime to last an extra 15 minutes but it didn’t slow either team down coming out of the break. Salem pushed its lead to as many as three before Heckman and fellow attacker Nick Ouellette (five goals, one assist) took over the game.
“They (Salem) were down a defenseman and we have two first-team NEC all stars,” said O’Donnell referring to Heckman and Ouellette. “They’ve taken us this far so at that point, they had to carry us.”
Peabody pushed its own lead to three goals with just under six minutes left in the game. The Witches, who have showed guts all season, battled back behind senior attacker Chad Coehlo (eight goals). Coehlo tied the game for the Witches with 40 seconds left after a Peter Slattery shot hit a defender and popped over the cage to Coehlo, who took two steps and rifled the ball into the back of the net.
Coehlo, Matt Willson (two goals), Slattery (three goals, one assist) and Matt Muse (one goal, three assists) all fought valiantly for the Witches, who could have pulled out the victory with a few more defensive stops.
“We were down three (goals) and we battled. The kids have a lot of heart,” said Nardella. “They were selling out for each other and that’s what it’s all about. We kept holding the rope, no matter how tough it got.”
Meadowcroft (eight saves), Salem’s keeper, made a crucial save that allowed the Witches to tie the game when he stoned Josh Fiore cold on the doorstep with just over a minute left in the game.
Not to be outdone was his counterpart Evan Connolly (10 saves). The Peabody keeper’s last stop for the Tanners was anything but ordinary. Willson won the faceoff to start the extra period and Salem got the shot it wanted with Slattery getting the ball right at the top of the crease. He went waist-high on Connolly’s stickside and the Peabody goalie met him there.
Heckman’s game-winner came on the ensuing possession.
“Evan (Connolly) made the best save of his life,” noted O’Donnell.
Fiore (goal, assist), Eric Hennessey (three goals), Jeremiah Manfra (goal) and Reed Foster (goal) were the other Peabody goal-scorers while Billy Muse and Craig Denehy recorded a marker each for Salem. Willson had another outstanding day taking faceoffs but Peabody evened things out on the draw by being better on groundballs.