LYNN — When you’re just a freshman playing on the varsity with a chance to put your team in the Division 2 North championship game, what goes through your mind when you’re bearing down on the goalkeeper with the ball on your foot?
For Danvers High’s leading goal scorer, ninth grader Arianna Bezanson, the aim is to keep things simple.
“In my head I try to picture that’s its only me and the goalie — and the ball — and I try to find an open spot to put it in,” Bezanson said after turning in the biggest game of her young career Thursday night at Manning Field.
Behind two goals and an assist from their freshman ace, defending champion Danvers knocked off undefeated and top-seeded Masconomet, 3-1, in the North semifinals.
In doing so, the Falcons (18-2-1) advance to their third straight sectional final, with this year’s set to kick off at 2 p.m. Monday back at Manning Field against the winner of Friday’s Winchester/Concord-Carlisle bout.
Bezanson netted the game-winner with just over 16 minutes left in regulation, breaking a 1-1 tie when Danvers intercepted a clearing attempt and sent Bezanson back the other way for a wide-open look at the net.
“Arianna had great speed, and her first touch is terrific,” said Danvers head coach Jimmy Hinchion. “She’s so versatile. When we need a stop, we move her to center mid and when we need a goal, we move her up. She was fantastic in this game.”
It was a dream start for Masconomet (18-1-1), which saw freshman Elana Lindonen score just 27 seconds into the game. Sophomore Morgan Bovardi ran behind the defense on the opening kick and sent a perfect kick to her teammate for the finish and a stunning 1-0 lead.
“They cut through us like butter,” said Hinchion.
Danvers pressed the action from there, though, controlling play for much of the first half while outshooting the Chieftains by a 5-1 margin.
Masconomet keeper Carolyn Hanson made several great saves and defenders Tori Simas, Carolyn Favazza (a senior captain) and Athena Kordis (playing at Assumption College next year) all made tackled to deny Danvers scoring chances. The Falcons had four corner kicks in the first half with Masco’s Ryenne Feeney making a save on one ticketed for the back of the net.
“It was a great start ... almost too good,” said Masconomet head coach Alison Lecesse. “We’ve seen Danvers a lot this year, the girls know each other well and we knew they were very fast. There’s not much you can do about (Bezanson’s) goal ... it was one pass and she ripped it.”
Danvers tied it with only four minutes left in the first half when senior captain Lauren Clement dished to Bezanson for the finish. Such was the respect between the teams that Hinchion moved Clement to defense at center back for the rest of the game, wary of the tremendous foot skills of Bovardi and senior All-New England midfielder Sophia Woodland (playing at Boston University next year).
“We needed Lauren against their most dangerous players. Those two for Masco are amazing and we needed to close down on them after giving so much space in the first half,” said Hinchion, also lauding the play of defenders Olivia Anderson and Abbi Clickstein as well as Erica Blanch and Madison Pesce.
The Chieftains didn’t have much in the way of offensive chances, though they did get one ball into the box that Danvers keeper Kylie MacCormack (three saves) managed to corral. Much of the game was contested in the middle of the field with Danvers’ Jess Pelletier frequently battling Woodland for loose balls.
“It become a bit of a chess match with forwards playing defense and vice versa,” Lecesse said. “It was a fun game, a very technical game that was played very fast. I think that’s the best I’ve seen Danvers play this year and honestly it was one of the best games we’ve played as well.”
Abby Cash put the game away for Danvers with only three minutes to go. Bezanson sent her in behind the defense with a deft pass, and Cash scored for an insurmountable two-goal advantage.
“I was very happy with the way we rebounded after they scored only 27 seconds into the game,” Hinchion said. “There was no panic. Our seven seniors are amazing. To be in three straight North finals, being huge parts of last year’s team and now the focal point of this one, says a lot about their leadership.”