It had no playoff ramifications, but the Pilgrim field hockey team’s season finale with South Kingstown on Thursday still had a postseason feel to it.
Each team wanted to finish another tough Division I season on a high note. As it turned out, they both did.
South’s Abigail Schmidt gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead five minutes into the second half before Pilgrim’s Haley Donahay tied the score nine minutes later. The game stayed tied the rest of the way, as a 1-1 draw was the way that the season came to an end.
The Pats and Rebels finished with matching 3-12-1 records, which left them tied in ninth place in the D-I standings. The top eight make the playoffs.
“We played great,” Pilgrim head coach Steph Shields said. “It’s a great way to end the season, really on a positive note. Obviously a win would have been really great, but they were incredibly enthusiastic and excited about the game.”
The tie gave Pilgrim seven points, which is tied for the most it has had in a single season since moving to D-I in 2010. That year, the Pats also went 3-12-1. Last season, they went 0-16.
The improvement over last year alone made it a successful showing.
“It’s a tough season in Division I,” Shields said. “But we had a much better record. Last year we didn’t win any games. This year we won three, tied a game, so it’s a better record. Points-wise, it’s the most points we’ve had in the last four years in Division I. It’s nice to do this.”
Pilgrim had the game with the Rebels circled for a while. South is one of the teams that it closely matches up with, as opposed to the teams at the top of the division like Moses Brown and East Greenwich. The Pats beat South 2-1 on Sept. 17.
Throw in the fact that it was Senior Night, where the Pats honored their six seniors, and the game felt even bigger.
Right from the start, Pilgrim put the pressure on. It had penalty corners in the eighth and 11th minutes, and Madison Tyrell almost knocked the ball in after a shot by Lillian Saran on the second one, but it trickled wide left.
The Pats added another corner in the 19th minute, but came up empty again. Seven minutes later, Chrissy Cavanagh put a ball on net that was kicked away by South goalie Peyton O’Hara. A minute after that, yet another corner was unsuccessful, as Tyrell and Donahay had good looks and Paula Cavanagh actually scored, only to have it waved off because of a violation.
At the break, after a dominant Pilgrim half, the score was still 0-0.
“They really did in the first half have a lot of moments where we had it in control,” Shields said. “We had shots, so I wasn’t concerned that we couldn’t score at all. It was just a matter of when we were going to score.”
Unfortunately for Pilgrim, South managed to do it first. The Rebels came out with a different intensity early in the second half, and 4:58 into the period, Nicole Kring flipped a pass into the circle from the right where Schmidt slapped it off Pilgrim goalie Courtney Cardoza into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
After having controlled play for so long, the Pats were unlikely candidates to be trailing.
“I tried not to panic,” Shields said. “We’ve talked about it. When we’ve been behind before in other games we have a tendency to panic.”
This time, Donahay came to the rescue. The senior who was returning to the field for the first time in weeks after a broken thumb, scored her first goal of the year at the most opportune time.
With just under 16 minutes left, following a Pilgrim penalty corner, Donahay dribbled to the middle of the circle from the left and connected solidly on a shot to the goal. The ball tipped off a South Kingstown stick and got past O’Hara to knot the score.
Donahay’s goal was the first for any Pilgrim player this season other than Paula Cavanagh.
“Once she got cleared, she was excited that she actually got to play,” Shields said of Donahay. “I promised her on Senior Night that she could at least stand on the field for a second and then come off if she hadn’t been cleared, so she was happy and it clearly helped us. I think it gave the whole team a little boost.”
From there, the game was deadlocked. The Rebels had four penalty corners in regulation, while Pilgrim had two of its own, but little developed. In the 10-minute overtime period, Chrissy Cavanagh ripped a shot from the goal line in the fifth minute, but that was turned aside, and Donahay’s rebound try went wide. Paula Cavanagh threatened in the final minute, but her shot was also saved and the final buzzer went off shortly afterwards.
That brought the season to a close. Cardoza finished the game with five saves, and she led the state in that category this season. The Pats will say goodbye to her and Donahay, as well as Jessica Pope, Sarah Reilly, Margaret Smith and Tyrell.
“They all played hard,” Shields said. “Our seniors really stepped up their game on their Senior Night, which was great to see. It was exciting.”
And next year, Pilgrim will once again try to improve and hold its own in an always-difficult D-I.
“It’s tough to play the Moses Browns, East Greenwich all the time, but in some ways I think it does make our girls a little better,” Shields said. “They see that and they know what we’re working for. It makes these games a little better.”