by Kristian Lundberg
The final score narrates only part of the story.
1Although Chelmsford pulled out a 5-2 victory in the first round of the State Tournament Friday, field hockey refused to quit, even when facing a nearly insurmountable deficit.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime in a game that was veering towards a blowout, the 13th-seeded Tigers scored twice in the second half, keeping the Chelmsford fans on the edge of their seats, before the Lions finally closed out the game.
“I think we did Newton North proud,” coach Celeste Myers said. “We never gave up, and although we stumbled a bit out of the gate, we came out in the second half and stayed with it.”
In an occurrence about as unforeseen as the sunrise, junior Bridget Gillis registered her umpteenth multiple-goal game, scoring both of the Tigers’ goals. Throughout the season, Gillis carried much of the team’s offensive production, and her four goals in the Tigers’ penultimate game at Needham propelled the squad to a playoff berth.
“Bridget played really well and really consistently all year,” Myers said. “They couldn’t put anyone on her.”
However, even her strong performance was not enough to overcome the 4th-seeded team in the section.
The Tigers suffered through a slow start, perhaps due to the frigid conditions or to the shock of being in the tournament, and the Lions made them pay. After dominating possession over the first five minutes, Chelmsford sophomore Libby Mercuri slapped home a loose ball five yards from the net to tally the game’s first goal at 22:02. The Lions struck again 90 seconds later, taking advantage of a stunned Tigers defense to threaten once again from inside a few yards. This time, Chelmsford senior Torrie Russo did the honors, beating goaltender senior Danielle Wasson, a captain with seniors Alison Berkowitz and Stephanie Vitone, to her left. Myers was forced to burn a timeout, and hardly before the Tigers could blink, they found their season close to being over.
Following the timeout, the Tigers started to intensify their offensive pressure. The Tigers won back the majority of the possession, and their passing game greatly improved, but they were unable to solve the Lions’ airtight defense.
“We moved the ball well, but we came out slow in the beginning,” Myers said. “Based on the styles of play, I’m not surprised by how the game developed.”
By the time junior Annie Villare scored with 16 minutes left in the half to increase the Lions’ lead to 3-0, even Yogi Berra would have left to beat traffic.
But, the Tigers came out firing in the second frame.
“In the second half, we came out more aggressive, and we took more risks,” Myers said. “We moved down the left side of the field and scored only a couple minutes in.”
Myers added, “We gave our scorers an opportunity to put the ball in, and Bridget scored both of our goals.”
After Gillis netted her first goal, barely two minutes into the second frame, it seemed as if the Tigers had gained the momentum the Lions held throughout the first half. Led by Berkowitz, Vitone and senior Bobby Grimshaw on the attack, they pressed forward and pinned the ball deep in Lions’ territory, but Chelmsford withstood the Tigers’ barrage.
Finally, with 16:55 left in the game, Lions freshman Rachel Bossi scored off a counter-attack to put her team back on top by three. Subsequently, Mercuri added her second with 11:45 remaining, extending the Lions’ advantage to 5-1.
Yet, in a testament to the Tigers’ tenacity, they marched down the field 50 seconds later and answered with a goal of their own, off Gillis’ stick, to cut the deficit to 5-2. Even though the Tigers couldn’t draw any closer in the game’s waning minutes, Myers said the team demonstrated it could compete at a high level.
“We were there, we were in the game and we showed we could put the ball in the net,” she said.
Reflecting on the team’s season, Myers said, “We wanted a different outcome in the end, but we proved we belonged.
“We had a roster filled with freshmen, seniors and one or two juniors in the beginning of the season. It wasn’t the team you’d say is going to make it, but we won our division and made the playoffs for the second time in a row,” she said.
“It’s been a pleasure and a joy to be a part of this team, and both the freshmen and the seniors have done a fabulous job. I’m really proud of their attitude and how far they’ve come.”