Last year, an experienced Warwick Vets girls’ lacrosse team welcomed a neighbor into the league with open arms. And then, after saying hello to their new rivals, the Hurricanes did what rivals do and beat Pilgrim twice.
On Thursday afternoon, the Patriots finally got a chance to return the favor.
And they seized it.
In their second year as a program, the Pats notched their first win over cross-town rival Vets, getting six goals each from Ami Marks and Haley McCusker in an 18-4 victory on Vets’ home field. It was the third victory in nine days for the Pats, who hadn’t ever won a game before that stretch. Vets fell to 0-7.
“It does mean a lot,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “Any win is a big win, but these kids get pumped up for city rivalries. To beat them here at their field is a big deal for our program. Going 0-14 last year, to start racking up some wins means a lot. Every win means a lot, but it’s even more special to beat a city rival.”
Vets has significantly less experience than it did last year, and it’s been a struggle all season. Pilgrim, which was riding high after its first victory and a dramatic win over Chariho last Tuesday, wasn’t going to waste its chance to score its first rivalry win.
“We were excited,” McCusker said. “We were really hoping for another win.”
And they played like it.
Just over a minute into the game, McCusker got a free position near the net and ripped a shot past Vets goalie Christine Amaral to make it 1-0. Two minutes later, Michaela Giuttari drove down the middle and buried a shot for the 2-0 lead.
And the Pats didn’t take their foot off the gas.
McCusker scored again with 20:25 left in the first half, and Marks scored two minutes after that to make it 4-0. A minute later, McCusker tallied her third goal to make it 5-0.
“We’ve been challenging them to start quick,” Flanders said. “A lot of our games, we’ve been starting off sluggish and then coming on stronger later. We’ve been talking to them at practice and saying to them, ‘Let’s get a fast start and let’s send a message right away.’ And they did.”
The ’Canes got on the board with 14:18 left on a goal by Emily Almonte, but McCusker answered with 13:21 left, taking a pass from Giuttari and burying a jump shot for the 6-1 cushion.
Marks scored twice later in the half to make it 8-1, before Vets got back within striking distance thanks to goals by Lauren Almonte and Jenna Fontaine in the final two minutes of the half.
At the start of the second half, it looked like the ’Canes might be in line for a comeback. With just over a minute gone, Casey Bennett got loose and slipped a shot past Kayleen Murphy from close range to make it 8-4.
But instead of a spark for a comeback, the wheels came off again. Vets didn’t score again and Pilgrim pulled away to the 18-4 win.
“We can’t seem to get anything going in a game,” said Vets head coach Kathy Moan. “It’s 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental, and the mental part is what’s killing us right now. We get down a couple of goals, it gets in our heads and it spirals out of control from there. We got a goal right after halftime. We started to get back into it. But when the other team gets a couple of goals, it seems to take their heads back out of it.”
And Pilgrim didn’t let up.
Giuttari answered Bennett’s early tally with a goal just 25 seconds later. She won the draw and raced straight in for a quick shot.
Over the rest of the game, Marks added three more goals, McCusker scored two more and Giuttari tacked on one. Megan Sullivan, Brianna Boucher and Cara Beneduce had one each.
The 18 goals are a new season-high for the Pats.
“Right now, we’re concentrating on possession of the ball and being more selective with our shooting,” Flanders said. “Not rushing things. It’s difficult at times. We have kids who are competitive. They see the frame and they want to go to it. Sometimes they don’t see what’s in front of them. It may not be the greatest opportunity to run into defenders and take a shot, when we can pull it out and get a different view.”
From Moan’s spot on the Vets sideline, the improvement was easy to see.
“Their stick skills have come a long way and you can clearly see they have more awareness of the game,” Moan said. “And their goalie is amazing. She was good last year never having played lacrosse before. I’ve seen a big improvement in her, just in the one year. They’ve come a long way. They’re a good team.”
The win improved the Pats to 3-5. The game also marked the beginning of the second half of the season, and the Pats hope it’s a good half. They were scheduled to be back in action Monday against Narragansett, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll host Middletown on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
“It’s about keeping them focused and keeping them loose,” Flanders said. “They’re playing relaxed now and that was an issue earlier in the year. They seem more confident in their fundamentals and their abilities at this point.”
Vets will also be looking for improvement in the second half of the season. A win would be a pretty good starting point.
“We’re looking for a win,” Moan said. “For their mental game, I really think they just need it.”
Vets was slated to visit Westerly on Monday before hosting Portsmouth on Wednesday at 4 p.m.