Early last week, the Warwick Vets girls’ lacrosse team didn’t even think it had a chance to make the playoffs. Once the ’Canes realized they could, they didn’t let the chance get away.
Playing Lincoln in essentially a play-in game for the eighth and final playoff spot in Division II, Vets overcame an early two-goal deficit to knock off the Lions 9-7 and sneak into the postseason.
Vets finished the regular season just 2-11, but that’s still a game better than Lincoln and East Providence, each of whom finished 1-12. In the 10-team D-II, two wins was the magic number.
“We’re glad that we won the last of the games,” Vets head coach Kathy Moan said. “We had a rough season. It’s a growing year for us, and we struggled a lot. It’s nice to kind of go out with a win, and making the playoffs is a bonus.”
Playoffs aside, Vets knew it had a chance to be competitive with Lincoln, something it hasn’t been able to say about all of its opponents – prior to that game, Vets had been outscored 69-20 in its previous four – because of the first meeting between the two teams. Back on April 15, the ’Canes beat the Lions 10-4 for their only win of the season, until Thursday.
Emily Almonte and Jenna Fontaine led the way with three goals apiece, while Almonte picked up a fourth point with an assist. Casey Bennett also had two goals and Nicole Luiz had one, and an assist. Savannah Hersey had an assist as well.
“We feel like we were telling the kids to do things all year long, and in a lot of the games they got out on the field and they just didn’t do that,” Moan said. “Today, they were looking up the field to see who was open and they passed the ball rather than running the ball.”
In net, Katelen Pick had one of her best games of the season, racking up nine saves including one in the final two minutes that kept Vets ahead by two goals.
“It’s weird, because it’s my first season playing,” Pick said. “The fact that we were able to go to the playoffs – even if we get the one shot deal – it’s worth it.”
Initially, it didn’t look like Vets would get that shot. Lincoln jumped out to a 2-0 lead on two goals by Sarena Balon, and after a goal by Almonte made it 2-1, Balon struck again to give Lincoln a 3-1 lead.
But then the ’Canes caught fire. Almonte scored at the 13:28 mark, and Fontaine tied the score at three four minutes later on a free position in front. About two minutes after that, Fontaine buried another shot that tipped off Lincoln goalie Nina Fournier to give Vets its first lead of the game at 4- 3.
While Balon tied the score almost immediately after with her fourth goal of the game, Bennett scored off a free position just before the half ended, giving the ’Canes a 5-4 advantage at the break.
“They did a lot of things that we worked on all season, they put them all together and really did it in today’s game,” Moan said.
Right after the opening whistle of the second half, Lincoln tied the score again on a long-range shot by Cassidy DiPaola that tipped off a Vets player and snuck in. Less than a minute later, though, Bennett threw the ball on net from way out, and somehow it slipped by Fournier. The back and forth continued with a goal from Daphne Robson tying the game, before Fontaine scored off a pass from Almonte directly in front.
Once again, Lincoln came back, as Balon scored again to tie it at seven.
Yet the ’Canes kept up the pressure. Luiz scored off a pass that Hersey threw from behind the net, and Vets never gave up the lead again. A few minutes later, Luiz hit Bennett, who hit Almonte on the right side for a pretty goal to make it 9-7.
“They were the team that we beat, so we knew going in it was going to be a good game, going to be a close game,” Moan said.
From that point on, the ’Canes set out to finish the job. They controlled the ball for nearly the entire last two minutes, before giving it up briefly to Balon. Balon went the length of the field, but Pick was there to make a big stick save and preserve the lead.
“Making that final save, I was like, ‘Thank God,’” Pick said.
Vets regained possession and killed the clock to clinch their spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“Going through my head was that we needed to win this,” Pick said. “I wanted to win this to give the seniors a shot. When we go out there, it’s all or nothing, so I was going out there with the mindset – especially in the last two minutes – that I had to perform.”
The ’Canes’ quarterfinal opponent will likely be top-seeded, undefeated Lincoln School – which beat Vets 20-2 earlier this season – although the brackets have yet to be released. The game is scheduled for Thursday, and Vets will be on the road.