Despite being played in the first week of the season, the Pilgrim-Narragansett girls’ lacrosse match-up on Saturday was billed as a big one.
For two teams with Division III title aspirations, it didn’t disappoint. The Pats and Mariners battled to five ties and three lead changes before Narragansett held off a late Pilgrim charge for a 7-6 victory.
The Pats trailed by two goals with five minutes to play, cut the deficit to one goal and then were awarded a free position in front of the net with 15 seconds to play. But Haley McCusker’s shot attempt was saved by Narragansett goalie Ceili O’Connell, preserving the win for the Mariners.
Pilgrim was pleased with the way it played against a team that went 12-2 last year in Division II, yet was still disappointed it didn’t grab the win. Either way, even at this juncture of the season, the Pats are fully aware that they can compete with the top teams.
“This was a good test today,” Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders said. “This is a real good team. We’re proud of our performance losing by a goal today. But I didn’t think we had our ‘A’ game by any means. Some things didn’t go our way, and with some practices and some games under our belt, this will be a different story next time we play these guys.”
Pilgrim was coming off a strong season opener on Tuesday, in which it beat up on Westerly 17-7. In that game, McCusker scored eight times, Betsy Heidel scored three times, Michaela Giuttari scored twice, Amibeth Marks scored twice and Cara Beneduce and Erica Hammond each added a goal.
Against Narragansett, however, offense was a little harder to come by.
The Mariners focused heavily on McCusker and Heidel, limiting that duo to just three combined goals – two for McCusker and one for Heidel.
“I think both teams today were more defensive-minded, trying to take weapons away from each other,” Flanders said.
Even though the game ended with a relatively low score, it started out fast. Narragansett got a goal from Brooke McGreen in the second minute of play, and three minutes later Hammond scored for the Pats to tie the game. Two minutes after that, the Mariners re-took the lead on a goal by Carly Timpson.
Then, the pace slowed.
Nobody scored for the next 14:05, even with ample opportunities on both ends. Pilgrim goalie Kayleen Murphy and Narragansett’s O’Connell did their jobs to perfection, and penalties on both teams kept the offenses out of rhythm.
“Our defense played really, really well,” Flanders said. “Our goalie, Murphy, she made some great saves.”
Finally, Pilgrim struck. Off a penalty, Heidel flipped a pass to McCusker on the left side, and she ran behind the net. From there, she made one move and darted in front, scoring in the top of the net to tie the game at two with 3:35 to play in the first half.
Just over a minute later, Heidel bounced a shot home on a free position to give the Pats their first lead at 3-2. Narragansett came right back, tying the score just before the half on a free position shot by Eileen Sullivan. The score was tied at the break.
In the second half, Narragansett dominated the first five minutes of play, but couldn’t get anything past Murphy. The defensive trio of Britney Howland, Kelly Vatter and Megan Sullivan kept the Mariners from getting many solid opportunities, and Howland began a counter-attack with 19:43 left that led to the Pats’ next goal.
She sprinted up the right side before making a pass in the middle to Beneduce. Beneduce found McCusker wide open next to the right post, and McCusker easily deposited it home for a 4-3 lead.
“This is a team that we’re definitely going to battle with,” Flanders said. “I know they petitioned to go to Division II. They think they’re good, and I think they’re good. This is a powerhouse team, definitely.”
As was the norm for the game, however, Narragansett immediately tied the score less than a minute later when Kara Heatherton scored on a free position in front.
The Mariners re-took the lead at the 14:18 mark when Sullivan scored again on a free position, and then it was Pilgrim’s turn to come back, as it tied the score on a goal by Marks one minute later.
With the score knotted at five, Narragansett’s Chandler Lemay put one past Murphy in front for a 6-5 lead, and the Mariners took the first two-goal lead of the game when Grace Cunnie scored off a free position to the right of the goal.
“If we can limit an opponent to seven goals, especially one like this, you would think we’d be on the winning side,” Flanders said.
The Pats certainly came close. With 1:59 to play, Marks scored again on a free position. Narragansett won the ensuing draw and held the ball until the 40-second mark, when Pilgrim made its final march down the field to try to tie the score.
McCusker was fouled with 15.1 seconds to play, and scored on the initial free position, but the referee ruled that she was fouled prior to that shot. With a second free position in front, McCusker’s shot was saved. O’Connell cleared the ball, and the time ran out, giving the Pats the tough, one-goal loss.
“They’re gamers,” Flanders said. “They’re competitive. They’re going to take this loss hard. Then they’re going to get over it and we’ll get in practice and get working. They’ll get hungry. This might have been good for them.”
The Pats will try to improve on their 1-1 mark on Thursday, when they travel to Chariho for a 3:30 p.m. game.
Pilgrim won’t see Narragansett again until May 8.
“To play them, only 7-6, that looks good,” Flanders said. “But my players know, I know, (assistant coach Charlie Benson) knows, (assistant coach Joel Cordiero) knows that we can play better. But it was good to come out and here and see what we can do.”