In a regular-season meeting with Burrillville, a late goal made the difference in a 1-0 Pilgrim victory. In the Division II semifinals on Friday night at frigid Cranston Stadium, it looked like an early goal might be the clincher. Kendra Levesque’s tally just 38 seconds into the game put the Patriots ahead 1-0, and they carried that lead into halftime.
But the high-powered Broncos still had 40 minutes to work with.
And they made those minutes count.
Taylor Ross tied the game less than two minutes into the second half and the Broncos needed just one more minute to break the deadlock on a goal by Kathryn Antoniello. Pilgrim made a push but couldn’t net the equalizer and the Broncos put the game on ice with a goal in the 70th minute, sealing a 3-1 win.
Burrillville went on to beat Lincoln on Sunday for the Division II championship. Pilgrim headed home with a semifinal loss for the second straight year.
“It was a great start, just the way we wanted to start,” said Pilgrim coach Tom Flanders. “We wanted to come out of the blocks fast. Then it just started to go away from us a little bit. I think the kids were shocked at Burrillville’s first goal. The second goal right away, it really upset what we wanted to do.”
The result was another explosive performance by the third-seeded Broncos, who tallied 13 goals in three games on their way to the championship.
“They kept their heads up being down 1-0 at halftime,” said Burrillville head coach Amy Cardone. “They played like I knew they could.”
Pilgrim’s start put the Broncos on their heels. Off the opening whistle, Katelyn Vieira made a run down the right side and forced to the Broncos to kick the ball over the end-line for a corner kick. Clare Birney lofted it into the box, where goalie Catherine Keable deflected it to the left. The ball bounced to Levesque, who used her left knee to volley it our of the air and into the net.
“We played flat in the first 30 seconds,” Cardone said, “and they put one in on us.”
The Broncos nearly answered a minute later when a shot by Ross smashed off the cross-bar. But from there, it was back-and-forth, with both teams getting chances. Birney almost bent in a corner kick in the 25th minute but Keable knocked it away. Vieira got loose on a run in the 35th minute, but saw Keable win a race to the bouncing ball. A deflection bounced to Hannah Johnson but her shot at an open net sailed high.
At the other end, Hannah Page made five good saves to keep her team in front. They went to the break leading 1-0.
“We felt great at halftime,” Flanders said. “We were playing pretty well, and I think halftime was probably the worst thing that could have happened.”
Halftime gave the Broncos a chance to regroup – and did they ever. In the 42nd minute, Ross – the leading scorer in Division II – settled the ball in the box, created space for herself and ripped a shot between Page and the right post to tie the game.
“Ross is a heck of a player,” Flanders said. “We knew that going in. Clare Birney did an excellent job defending. But players like that, when you give them opportunities, they capitalize. She’s a dangerous player. You can contain it for a while, but they’re going to get their opportunities. When they do, they’re going to take them. That’s what makes them good.”
Unfortunately for the Pats, it wouldn’t be the last seized opportunity. Just 59 seconds after the goal by Ross, the Broncos took a free kick from 25 yards out. Page jumped in traffic and punched the ball away, but it went right to Ross, who slipped it to Antoniello on her left. She had an open look at the net and buried the shot.
“The second goal was huge,” Cardone said. “I told them, ‘Play your game and have fun. Once we put one in, we’ll be fine.’ That’s what they did. You could see a big difference in the second half.”
In control for the first 40 minutes, the Pats suddenly found themselves in an uphill battle. And with speedy defenders Sydney Blais and Isis VanPutten manning the back for Burrillville, it was a steep climb. The Pats struggled to possess the ball in the midfield so had to settle for long lead passes. Blais rarely let the Patriots connect on any of them, while VanPutten shadowed Vieira, Pilgrim’s leading scorer.
“Sydney has a lot of speed and she plays smart,” Cardone said. “Isis normally plays midfield, but she’s our best in one-on-one and I knew I needed to put her on Katelyn Vieira. She did an outstanding job.”
The Pats have scored a good chunk of their goals this season by using their speed and finishing ability to take advantage of miscues. The Broncos never gave them a chance.
“They did a fantastic job,” Flanders said. “They don’t mess up. Normally we can capitalize on a mistake, a second ball, but they never did.”
Pilgrim had a corner kick that went right to Keable in the 59th minute. In the 66th minute, Molly Lynch got tangled up with Keable in the box and the ball slipped loose, but the Broncos cleared it before Pilgrim could take a shot.
In the 70th minute, with the Pats pushing forward, the Broncos countered and sealed the deal. Ross trapped a cross in the box, and played it back to a charging Victoria Libby. She powered a shot into the net to make it 3-1.
The Pats got a decent look for Vieira in the 78th minute, but Keable saved it and not much else materialized.
As the Broncos celebrated, the Pats tried to focus on the positives.
“The thing I have to remember about this team is that they’re young,” Flanders said. “A lot of them are sophomores and they’ve never been here before. They’re going to learn from this experience. We’ll grow as a program. That’s what I’m hoping comes out of it.”
Pilgrim will bid farewell to six seniors – Levesque, Birney, Haley McCusker, Olivia DeLuca, Jennifer King and Shannon Ferry. In their four years in the program, Pilgrim won 49 games. The positive trend continued this year despite heavy graduation losses.
“Fantastic season,” Flanders said. “I’m very pleased with this group. The seniors were fantastic and I look forward to working with our returning players in the future.”