By Tris Wykes
WEST CANAAN – Bri Withington’s index finger was splinted and wrapped in an ice bag late Sunday afternoon, but the Mascoma High field hockey player was in high spirits nonetheless.
That’s because it was the junior forward’s second-quarter goal that lifted the Royals to a 1-0 victory over Stevens in an NHIAA Division III quarterfinal. Mascoma (5-3), the Region 2 winner, advances to a semifinal this week against the victor of Monday’s Region 3 final between Hopkinton and Bishop Brady. The Green Giants (8-0-1) beat the Royals in last year’s state title game.
Mascoma athletic director Rodney Brown said he expects a coin flip to determine whether his school will be a semifinal host. If his team hits the road, he said, the game will be Wednesday. If the Royals receive a home contest, however, scheduling conflicts will move the matchup to Thursday.
Mascoma was more active off the ball Sunday, to the point where it sometimes appeared as if there were more Royals on the field than Cardinals. The hosts paid special defensive attention to Stevens forwards Bri Frisbee and Julia Tursky, rendering the usually-dangerous pair mostly ineffective.
“Yesterday at practice we worked at moving the ball better and not stopping our forward progression,” said Mascoma coach Jenn Hammond, noting that Tursky tallied the lone goal of the teams’ Sept. 19 meeting. “Clearing it to the sides and then going to it. We executed all that today.”
Withington scored her goal from close range by the left post and 7 minutes, 36 seconds before halftime. Stevens defender Gabby Savo was to Withington’s right and the goal line to her left, with netminder Alex Perez between her and the cage.
The Cardinals’ Cameron Ferland was behind her goalie, but despite them all surrounding Withington, she managed to scoop a shot up and in, the ball passing Perez on her stick side at the near post.
“Sometimes if you lift the ball in the circle, (the referees) consider it dangerous and sometimes they don’t,” Hammond said. “We decided to lift it and see what happened. That way, the goalie has way more space to cover. She don’t just have the ball at her feet, she has to have her arms going, too.”
Said Withington: “It deflected to me off the goalie and I saw an open corner down low. I didn’t think I was going to be able to shoot there because her feet were in the way, so I instinctively lifted it.”
Patty Deschaine, Stevens’ 17th-year coach, said she thought her 3-3 team could have played better, but that its effort wasn’t in doubt.
“We had opportunities and just didn’t finish it,” she said, her voice breaking. “I’m just thankful we had a season, that is the biggest thing right now. We didn’t even think about playoffs until we got there, because we knew the season could end at any time.”
Hammond said she thought her players were bolstered by the program’s three consecutive appearances in the division final. The Royals are 46-15 during the last four seasons, so her juniors and seniors understand pressure and how to cope with it.
“They know the level of intensity you have to have to push through,” Hammond said. “Each game you go is going to get harder.”