MARBLEHEAD — Central Catholic and Marblehead High's girls lacrosse squads were about as equal as two programs can be throughout the regular season. Both finished with the same record (13-4), both surrendered just under 9.0 goals/game and, on Thursday afternoon at Piper Field, both had the opportunity to advance to the sectional semifinals.
However, what the host Magicians had that the Raiders didn't was senior captain Grace Arthur, who was ultimately the difference in No. 4 Marblehead's 11-10 victory in the Division 1 North playoff quarterfinals.
Arthur led all players with five goals, including the game-winning score with 19 seconds left in regulation.
"Her (and Lyida Bongiorno) are fantastic players," said Magicians goalie Elizabeth Driscoll, who finished with nine saves. "Grace always knows what to do in tough situations like that — there aren't a lot of girls you can trust more."
"Our senior class as a whole has been awesome this year," added Marblehead assistant coach Shannon Beaton. "Like I've said all season, it's an incredibly talented group of girls who've put so much effort and heart into the program. It's a huge testament to their work ethic and all they've done to get ready for this."
Arthur and Bongiorno (4 goals) handled offensive duties along with Carter Murray and Maddie Erskine, who scored one goal apiece. But it was a total team effort that was needed to prevail against the fifth seeded Raiders — including from the coaching staff.
When the Magicians found themselves down 3-0 early in the first half, most coaches would have been quick to call for time. However, veteran head coach Annie Madden elected to pocket the timeout and eventually used it to keep possession after Arthur was under duress from Central Catholic defenders.
Right after the break in action, Bongiorno darted through the visitor's defense and found Arthur on a designed play to score and subsequently put Marblehead on the board at the first half's 12:35 mark. The Magicians proceeded to go on a four-goal run before the Raiders responded and took a 6-5 lead over the Northeastern Conference champs into the halftime break.
"I've looked up to Annie my entire life," said Beaton, who took over media responsibilities after Madden briefly left the squad earlier in the season for the birth of her child. "She played field hockey for my mom in Pentucket and was my first babysitter. She gave me a call last fall and see if I wanted to help coach, and it's been such an amazing experience ... I've learned so much from her already."
While coaches do everything possible for preparation, it ultimately comes down to the players' ability to deliver. Take Driscoll in net, as the sophomore made six of her nine stops during the last 25 minutes of action.
"She's saved us a bunch of times this season," said Beaton. "It's really impressive to make nine saves against an aggressive team like Central Catholic, who are probably one of the best programs in the state."
"It's all about getting pumped and in the right mindset," added Driscoll. "We all trust each other at this point, so I know everyone has my back when I take the field."
The victory puts Marblehead back in the sectional semifinals against the No. 1 seed, Reading (time and date TBA). The Rockets defeated Marblehead, 9-7, in the same round last season, but the fourth-seeded Magicians are ready for the rematch and eager to have some fun.
"The girls are laughing, smiling and really proud of themselves," said Beaton. "There's still much to learn and we're going to come back here (Friday) ready to work. We don't want this to end."