There was little consolation for the Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team on Saturday afternoon at Brown University.
Clear underdogs who had pulled a semifinal upset just to reach the Division III final, the Pats suddenly had a chance to complete their improbable run and finish the job against unbeaten Chariho. No longer were they just happy to be there.
But up five goals with 20 minutes to play, Pilgrim slowly saw its lead dissolve and eventually disappear completely. The Chargers scored six unanswered goals and held the ball for the final two minutes of the game to stun the Pats 9-8 for the championship.
It was the second straight stinging defeat for Pilgrim in the D-III title game, as it lost 10-8 to Narragansett last season.
This one, though, was particularly difficult to take, given how close the Pats were to the trophy.
“I’ll try to come up with some words when we get back,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “Just show them that you care. That’s all you can do at this point.”
Top-seeded Chariho went 11-0 during the regular season, including two victories over Pilgrim, which went 8-3, the second of which was a 17-7 blowout on May 2.
But the Pats had improved by leaps and bounds since then, and that was evident when they took an 8-3 lead on a free position goal by the state’s leading goal-scorer, Haley McCusker, with 20:06 left in the game.
At that point, Pilgrim had scored seven consecutive goals to erase a 3-1 deficit and take the commanding lead.
With so much time left, however, the game was far from over. Chariho had plenty left in the tank.
“Being down that far, we’ve never seen that this season,” said Chariho head coach Michelle Tebbets. “They really dug deep. I can’t even explain how much.”
And the Pats had no answer. It started in the middle, where Chariho won six consecutive draws following McCusker’s goal, paving the way for the comeback.
Paige Pajarillo scored just 16 seconds later to make it 8-4, and Isabella Rinne found the net with 16:15 to play. Less than two minutes after that, Samantha Orciari – the game’s MVP, with three goals – scored to make it 8-6, and Megan Kirby scored four minutes after that. Finally, with 9:49 to play, Pajarillo buried a turnaround shot to knot the score at eight.
Pilgrim was stunned.
“I wanted them to play relaxed but I also wanted them to stay focused,” Flanders said. “I told them that in lacrosse there’s no lead that’s safe. We definitely weren’t taking them lightly or anything like that. I think it was just a matter of the draws going their way and possession going their way.”
With the momentum squarely in Chariho’s favor, Pilgrim never again found its footing. It called a timeout after the Chargers tied the score, but not much changed. Right after that break, Chrissy Cavanagh was sent off for a yellow card and Chariho’s Peyton St. Lawrence buried the eventual game-winner from the left side on a far-away free position.
“My hat goes off to Chariho,” Flanders said. “A resilient team. I thought at 8-3 they might get nervous or something, and they didn’t flinch. They’re a tough team.”
Still, there was 8:26 remaining in the game, and the Pats had a few golden chances to at least tie the score. With 6:50 to play, Sophia DeLuca had a free position, but after a spin move was whistled for a charge. Two minutes later, Emma Reilly’s shot from close was robbed by Chariho goalie Madison Newman. Paula Cavanagh got the rebound and was slashed, giving her a free position.
But on the restart, Cavanagh fired a shot into a Chariho defender. The result was a yellow card on Cavanagh and possession for the Chargers.
“Our kids played extremely hard,” Flanders said. “We were riding some momentum and then when the momentum shifted it was hard to get back.”
Pilgrim goalie Alex Pouliot did all she could to keep her team in the game, making seven saves on the day including a big one with 2:30 left on Pajarillo.
That gave the Pats possession, but they turned it over 32 seconds later and never got it again. Chariho stalled for the final 1:58, never taking a shot or dropping a pass until the clock hit zero.
“They played extremely smart,” Flanders said. “They stalled when they should have with the goal lead. They did a lot of things right.”
Six different players scored for Chariho, which won its first championship in program history. Newman made 11 saves in net.
Pilgrim took a 1-0 lead in the first minute when McCusker scored the first of her game-high five goals on a free position. Chariho came back with three straight goals from there, but the Pats got two in a row from McCusker, one from Paula Cavanagh, another from McCusker and one from Kelsey Martin to take a 6-3 lead into halftime.
Early in the second, Emma Reilly found the back of the net to make it 7-3 and McCusker upped the lead to five goals shortly after.
But that was the last of the offense for the Pats. In the end, all they could do was watch while Chariho celebrated a title.
That was plenty tough, yet Flanders was nothing but proud of his group after the season it had. Pilgrim graduated 11 seniors and nearly every starter off last year’s team and was 3-3 at one point this year before winning its final five regular-season games, avenging a regular-season loss to Smithfield with a semifinal upset and taking the Chargers to the brink.
“I’m very, very proud of my team,” Flanders said. “This was the second year back in the D-III final. We graduated 11 seniors last year. This was a very young team. We beat a strong Smithfield team in the semifinals, so this was a nice surprise to be here and a great opportunity. My girls appreciate the opportunity.”
Pilgrim will bid goodbye to seniors McCusker, Emily Degnan, Jessica Pope, Martin, Jen King and Clare Birney.
“To our seniors, they did a tremendous job,” Flanders said. “They were tremendous leaders. I’m going to miss them. They’re going to go on and do great things. This is one of those life lessons that makes you stronger.”