It fell short in the end, but the comeback staged by the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team in Thursday’s showdown with undefeated Narragansett may still have a lasting impact.
The Patriots trailed 15-7 at halftime and 20-12 midway through the second half before a furious rally got them within two goals. They didn’t get closer, as the Mariners finished off an unbeaten league campaign with a 21-19 victory, but the Pats, who finish at 8-3, will take a lot from the near-miss. They discovered what it takes to hang with the Mariners – and they found an extra gear.
“The game told me a lot,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “It told me the type of gameplan we’re going to use if we see these guys again and it told me my team is never going to stop. They’re never out of it. That made me extremely proud.”
Pilgrim lost to Narragansett 7-6 in the first week of the season then won seven in a row before a one-goal loss to Chariho last Monday. As they geared up for the rematch with the Mariners, they wanted to bounce back and spring an upset at the same time.
But the Mariners – who have out-scored opponents by more than 100 goals this season – flexed their muscle early on. With the game tied 1-1, they scored three goals in two minutes to go up 4-1. The Pats stayed within striking distance, but the Mariners seemed to get two goals for every one Pilgrim scored. In the final 37 seconds of the half, the Mariners tallied three goals that upped the lead to eight, the biggest of the day.
They felt like back-breakers.
“Staring up at that scoreboard is not easy,” Flanders said. “I think we were intimidated. I think we were a little disorganized defensively and we weren’t winning draws consistently.”
Pilgrim corrected some of those issues in the second half and out-scored the Mariners 4-1 over the first six minutes. But the comeback started losing steam when Narragansett scored three straight goals to put the lead back at eight with 12:30 left.
Things looked grim, but the Pats suddenly hit their stride in a way they hadn’t all day. With 11:12 left, Haley McCusker scored to make it 20-13.
To that point, comeback attempts had stalled largely because the Pats never once won the draw after one of their goals. After McCusker’s tally, they did win the draw and they quickly took advantage. Michaela Giuttari scored with 10:19 left.
After Pilgrim won another draw again, McCusker scored to make it 20-15. The ensuing draw went Pilgrim’s way again, and after a long possession, McCusker somehow scooped the ball out of a wild scramble and muscled a shot into the net for another score.
With a big crowd getting into it, Pilgrim won the next draw and got a goal from Amibeth Marks to make it 20-17 with 4:53 left. Narragansett took a timeout.
“That was probably the most exciting game we played all year, even with a boring first 25 minutes,” Flanders said. “The second 25 minutes was like pure adrenaline. It was beautiful.”
Narragansett finally stemmed the tide when it won the next draw, but Kelsey Martin quickly stole the ball back for Pilgrim and created a transition chance. Martin pushed the ball to Giuttari, who got it to McCusker. She buried a shot from the left side to make it 20-18.
“You’ve got to be all together on that or it’s not going to happen,” Flanders said. “They all banded together and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
After Pilgrim won the next draw then turned the ball over, Narragansett’s Brooke McGreen hit the post on a shot. The Pats took over with a chance to get within a goal, but Narragansett goalie Ceili O’Connell saved shots from Giuttari and McCusker.
The Mariners then got some distance with a goal at 1:44. Pilgrim made one more charge when McCusker scored with 43 seconds left. The Pats then won the draw but O’Connell saved a shot by Cara Beneduce with 30 seconds left. The Mariners took over possession and ran out the clock.
Though the end result was disappointing for the Pats, the overwhelming feeling was positive.
As it preps for the playoffs, Pilgrim will be trying to bottle the intensity and focus that was on display during the second half comeback.
“They showed me the window into their capabilities,” Flanders said. “Now, anything less than that – I know they’re not giving me their all. Hopefully, it’s a win-win for us in the future. We were able to figure out what works for us in terms of a gameplan. And also, we found the mental and physical toughness and go out and do it.”
McCusker led Pilgrim with nine goals, while Giuttari had four goals and five assists. Marks and Beneduce had two goals each, and Erica Hammond and Betsey Heidel had one apiece.
McGreen led the Mariners with seven goals and Abby McKanna had six. Pilgrim goalie Kayleen Murphy finished with 13 saves, and the defensive unit of Kelly Vatter, Megan Sullivan and Britney Howland delivered strong performances in key spots.
“Overall, it was good stuff,” Flanders said.
The Pats will be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed for the Division III playoffs, depending on how a tiebreaker with Chariho works out. Narragansett will be the No. 1 seed.
The playoffs are scheduled to begin later this week, but match-ups and times have not been determined.
However it shakes out, the Pats know what they need to do.
“We’ll be stressing fundamentals to make sure we’re going into the playoffs playing the way we need to be,” Flanders said. “We’ll see what happens.”