The Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team was hoping it would be in position to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Warwick Vets in Tuesday’s season finale. Instead, the Pats found out on Saturday that they’d be on the outside of the playoff picture regardless of what happened against the Hurricanes.
So the Pats settled for finishing off a special season on a high note. After Vets took a 4-3 lead midway through the first half, Pilgrim jumped in front before the break then pulled away early in the second half en route to a 15-9 victory.
The win capped a 7-7 campaign for the Pats, who went 0-14 last year in the program’s first season of action.
“We basically went into tonight saying, ‘Ok, 7-7 is a lot better than 6-8,’” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “We wanted to turn a negative into a positive. We told the girls, ‘We’re in a position most people probably didn’t think we’d be in this year.’ In my book, we’re a little bit ahead of schedule. This was a nice treat to be 7-7 and be in the playoff conversation.”
The Pats went 0-4 out of the gates this season, but once they got into the win column on April 18, they started looking like a contender. They ended up winning six of their final nine games.
As the season wore on, playoffs looked like a real possibility, but factors out of Pilgrim’s control hurt the cause. Middletown, who was just ahead of Pilgrim in the standings, upset first-place Narragansett last Wednesday. The next night, Pilgrim beat Middletown 14-7, but because of the Islanders’ upset of Narragansett, the Pats remained a game behind in the standings. Pilgrim had to hope Westerly could beat Middletown on Saturday. It almost happened, but Middletown won by a single goal to finish the season at 8-6.
“Westerly had to beat Middletown on Saturday,” Flanders said. “That would have forced a tie with us, and we had them on the tiebreaker. Westerly almost did it.”
When Westerly didn’t, the Pats were left on the outside looking in. It was deflating, but the team still had something to play for as it celebrated Senior Night and hosted rival Vets.
The ’Canes, who were still in search of their first win, were looking for a big finish, as well. And unlike the first meeting between the teams – when Pilgrim rolled to an 18-4 victory – the ’Canes were very much in the game, especially early on.
Midway through the first half, Lauren Almonte tied the game at 3-3 and, soon after, Vets took a 4-3 lead on a goal by Savannah Hersey.
“For the last few games, we’ve been close in the first half of pretty much every game,” said Vets head coach Kathy Moan. “We’ve been playing better.”
Slowly but surely, Pilgrim started to take control. Haley McCusker scored two goals to put Pilgrim back in front at 5-4, and Betsy Heidel made it 6-4 with 5:44 left in the half. Vets cut the deficit to one on a goal by Jenna Fontaine with 5:17 left, but Pilgrim scored twice before halftime. Ami Marks took a pass from Kelly Vatter at the defensive end and went coast-to-coast for a goal. McCusker scored with 1:03 left to make it 8-5.
In the second half, the Pats really turned it on. McCusker carried the ball in from the left and buried a shot as she streaked in front of the cage to make it 9-5 with 23:42 left. Ten seconds later, Heidel scored after winning the draw and sprinting to the cage. A minute later, McCusker scored again, and a minute after that, Heidel scored off another draw to make it 12-5.
Less than three minutes had come off the clock, and the Pats had taken control.
“We made a few adjustments with how we were attacking their defense – kicking the ball around, getting in behind their defense,” Flanders said. “And we told them to be more aggressive. Usually, we’re telling them to slow it down and be patient. Today, we were telling them to kick things up a little bit. We changed the pace, and when we did that, it was clear that good things would happen for us.”
Heidel scored again with 18:02 left to give Pilgrim its largest lead of the game. From there, Vets actually out-scored the Pats 4-2 on two goals from Emily Almonte and one each by Hersey and Liz Paras, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
Pilgrim got a goal from Kelsey Martin before pushing hard to get one for senior Ali Widmann, who normally plays defense. Widmann delivered with 1:22 left, scoring on a tough shot in traffic from the right side.
“I’m pretty happy with the result,” Flanders said. “It was just a good all-around effort tonight.”
McCusker led the Pats with seven goals, and Heidel tallied four. Marks had two, while Martin, Widmann and Michaela Giuttari had one each.
Before the game, Pilgrim honored seniors Widmann, Brianna Boucher, Kassandra Lussier, Emma Kunz and Jessica Rajiotte. Those five represent the lacrosse program’s first graduating class; the team didn’t have any seniors last year.
“The seniors did a great job for us,” Flanders said. “All of them contributed throughout the season and did a really good job. It’s our first group of seniors. They’ll always have a special spot with us.”
Pilgrim will return a strong nucleus next season as it looks to continue the progression. On the other side, Vets will lose eight seniors – Paras, Christine Amaral, Tara Hersey, Vanessa Dilone,
Jennifer Mason, Jessica Dow, Courtney Dale and Ashley Howe – but should also have a strong group coming back.
“Overall, they’ve come a long way since the beginning of the season,” Moan said. “It’s a young team, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there. It was definitely a building year. We’re graduating eight seniors and the younger kids are ready to step into bigger roles. We’re looking forward to next year.”