WESTFORD — One thing an underdog team can ill afford to do in postseason play is to take an overly cautious approach in the opening minutes of an elimination game.
That’s especially true if it’s girls lacrosse and your opponent is top-seeded Westford Academy.
Masconomet was upset-minded — and showed it by having some brilliant stretches — but it never recovered from a slow start in which it gave up five goals in the first three minutes en route to a 19-9 loss to the Grey Ghosts in the Division 1 North semifinals.
The Chieftains, who scored more goals and played Westford tougher than any other team the Grey Ghosts have faced in the tourney, closed out the season with a 17-6 record.
If Masconomet lived in some sort of sports fantasy world and could replay this one, it would undoubtedly come out of the gate much more aggressively than it did yesterday. It appeared the Chieftains were giving Westford and its star player, Villanova-bound Bailey Mongillo, too much respect in the early going. As a result, the hosts cruised to a 10-5 halftime lead and had an answer every time Masco made a threatening run at them.
“I told our girls to be like the Bruins and take command early,” said Westford Academy (22-1) coach Julie Oliver, showing her knowledge of what’s happening in the NHL playoffs. “I wanted our kids to set the tempo and play at that pace for the entire game.
“I have to give Masco credit. They adjusted. We must’ve won the first 10 faceoffs, but they adjusted and played well. But in three tournament games, we’ve outscored our opponents 53-14. Our kids have a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.”
For sure, Masconomet had its moments. The Chieftains didn’t panic when they were down 5-0 or 8-1. They sliced the deficit to 8-4 late in the first half on goals by Amy Arnold, Kathleen Gillespie and Rebecca Phillips, but Westford scored a pair of goals in the final 53 seconds before intermission, more than offsetting one by Masco’s Rachel Rogal, for the 10-5 cushion.
“When you play a team that has a player like (Mongillo), you tend to focus on her,” said Masconomet coach Alan McCarthy, who felt the Grey Ghosts were the best team the Chieftains faced this season. “We were watching (Mongillo) closely and they got some open cutters. We weren’t physical enough and they took advantage of their speed. But it could have been 8-6 at the half instead of 10-5. We were pretty close.”
Masco would not succumb easily, making yet another solid run early in the second half. After Westford’s Rebecca Sennott stretched it to 11-5, the Chieftains responded with a 3-1 flurry on goals by Megan Collins, Rogal and Arnold, making it 12-8 with 15:48 remaining. At that point, the Masco fans started to chant in unison and you could feel the momentum shifting.
However, the Grey Ghosts showed why they’re a legitimate contender for a state championship, taking over the game as junior midfielder Erica Mattila and Mongillo each scored a pair of goals to essentially put it out of reach at 16-8.
“I don’t want to say we thought they were too good at the beginning, but we didn’t come out strong enough and it seemed like we were trying too hard,” said Arnold, Masco’s senior co-captain who is headed to the University of Florida as a recruited player. “They’re also a great transition team and scored every time we scored.
“But I’m proud of the way our team played,” added Arnold. “We dug ourselves into a hole, but we kept fighting. It was awesome to be part of this team.”
Arnold and Rogal each finished with two goals and an assist. Collins also had a pair of goals for the Chieftains while Katherine Ripp, Gillespie and Phillips each had one.
Mattila (five goals, assist), Mongillo (four goals, two assists) were the most formidable weapons for Westford, which also got two goals apiece from Jenna Klinka, Stacey Shackleton, Taylor Freud and Tianna Habosian.