September 14, 2014
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Pilgrim into semis for second straight year with 3-1 win
CLARE BIRNEY

The Pilgrim girls’ soccer team saw the 2012 season end with an upset loss to Tiverton in the playoffs. The 2013 season began with a 1-1 tie against the Tigers, despite the fact that Pilgrim would go on to post the second-best record in Division II, while Tiverton would win just four games.

On Saturday afternoon, the Patriots broke the spell.

Clare Birney and Kendra Tantimonico scored first-half goals and the Pats held off a charge for a 3-1 win and a spot in the D-II semifinals.

“We played extremely well,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders. “It was a tough, tough game. Tiverton, even though their record wasn’t great, they had seven ties. They’re like Ebenezer Scrooge as far as giving up goals. They’re stingy. I thought we were going to have our work cut out for us and we did. Our kids played very well.”

Pilgrim, the No. 2 seed, will play No. 3 Burrillville on Thursday at 7 p.m., at Cranston Stadium. The only negative from Saturday is that the Pats may be without starting goalie Hannah Page for the semifinals.

The sophomore, who has played every minute in net this season, received a red card late in Saturday’s game when she came out of the box to clear the ball, missed it and then obstructed a Tiverton player who had a clear path to the goal. According to the officials, that kind of obstruction triggers an automatic red card.

Usually, a red card carries an additional one-game suspension. As of Monday, Pilgrim was waiting for a ruling from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, since the obstruction was not a typical red card offense like fighting.

“It was a silly thing,” Flanders said. “It’s tough, a bad decision. We’ll have to figure things out. Maybe it’ll create an opportunity for someone to be a hero.”

The loss of Page put a damper on the win, but the Pats are still exactly where they want to be – back in the semifinals for the second straight year.

Based on the draw, Flanders knew it wouldn’t be an easy task. The Tigers surrendered just 10 goals all season, second only to first-place Lincoln in D-II. They allowed more than one goal in a game just twice all season.

“I thought they were one of the toughest draws in a quarterfinal,” Flanders said.

On top of that, the Pats are still an inexperienced bunch, with only a few players who saw major minutes last year. A bye to the quarterfinals meant Saturday was a first-ever playoff game for most of Pilgrim’s starters.

“A lot of these kids haven’t had the opportunity to play in games like this,” Flanders said. “They’ve sat on benches and watched, but with all the seniors last year, they didn’t have the opportunities. They’re stepping in and I thought they did a great job.”

All the concerns were eased in the game’s ninth minute. Katelyn Vieira was fouled in the box and Pilgrim was awarded a penalty kick. Birney took it and easily beat goalie Amber Silva with a shot to the left corner.

Then, less than a minute later, Pilgrim attacked again. Tantimonico ended up with space in the box and she slid a low shot to the left corner for the 2-0 lead.

“Beautiful placement,” Flanders said. “Usually, Kendra is one that likes power, but she went for the placement. That was good. Other times, maybe we put that over the goal. We’ve learned from things, and now that’s a finish. That’s growth that I like to see.”

Pilgrim couldn’t put it on cruise control quite yet. In the 16th minute, Tiverton’s Allison Benevides lofted a free kick from 25 yards out over Page’s head and into the net, cutting the deficit in half.

The Pats largely carried the play after that but still had to sweat it out. Page made a diving save on a close-range shot by Caroline Wilson late in the first half. Less than two minutes into the second half, Mackenzie Mello got loose after a Pilgrim turnover and had a one-on-one race with Page. Page won it and knocked the ball away with a slide tackle.

In the 69th minute, the Pats could finally breathe easy. Vieira headed in a corner kick from Birney for the 3-1 lead.

“They finished the opportunities they could,” Flanders said. “They battled extremely hard and they never gave up. I’m extremely proud of them.”

Birney and Vieira each tallied a goal and an assist, while Page finished with 11 saves. Midfielder Kendra Levesque finished out the game in net.

The Pats will now get ready for Burrillville, whom they just saw in the regular-season finale. Pilgrim won that game 1-0 with a late goal.

The Broncos rolled past Westerly 6-0 in their quarterfinal game.

“Burrillville is a very strong team,” Flanders said. “I think we scored in the 76th minute to end up beating them 1-0 in the last game of the season. They’re going to be extremely difficult. We’ll see what we can do.”


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