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Warwick on center stage in semis
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READY FOR MORE: Vets’ Casey Bennett battles for possession in the quarterfinals.

Since 2000, Warwick teams have made seven appearances in girls’ soccer semifinal games. Never in that span have two teams done so at the same time.

That changes tonight.

Warwick Vets will play Lincoln in one Division II semifinal at 5 p.m., at Cranston Stadium. Following that, Pilgrim takes on Burrillville in the other semifinal. If they both win, they’ll square off for the Division II championship on Sunday in what would be the first girls’ soccer playoff meeting between Warwick schools since a quarterfinal match-up of Toll Gate and Vets in 2001.

Whatever happens, tonight is a big night.

“I’m thrilled,” said Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders, who was previously the Vets head coach. “It’s great for soccer in Warwick. On a personal note, I’m thrilled for the Vets kids. It’s something that doesn’t happen often. I’ve been coaching 20 years and I’ve been to one semifinal. You’ve got to embrace it when it happens.”

Pilgrim is in the semifinals for the second year in a row, while Vets is making its first appearance since going to the Division I semis in 2008. The ’Canes struggled in D-I after that season and moved to Division II this year.

No Warwick girls’ soccer team has been to a title game since Toll Gate in 2005. Warwick’s last champion was Pilgrim in 2000.

“It’s pretty cool to have two teams here,” said Vets head coach Fred Schweizer. “It’s good for the city, good for the kids.”

And both teams hope it’s a good result.

In the first game of the doubleheader, the fourth-seeded Hurricanes get a shot at Lincoln, who has been to the finals in two of the last three years. The Lions went 12-0-2 in the regular season, scored the third-most goals in D-II and allowed the fewest.

When they squared off in the regular season, Vets gave up a goal in the first minute of play but nothing else in a 1-0 loss.

While Vets owns victories over both Pilgrim and Burrillville, Schweizer didn’t mind drawing a rematch with the Lions.

“It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “I like our draw. Both Pilgrim and Burrillville are playing really good soccer now. Not that Lincoln isn’t, but having beaten Pilgrim and Burrillville, I’d rather face Lincoln. I told my girls, ‘They’re undefeated. We have nothing to lose. Let’s enjoy being where we are.’”

The Lions are coming off a 3-1 win over Classical. Vets knocked off Scituate 2-0 in the quarterfinals, shutting out the division’s highest-scoring team. The ’Canes would love to see a similar defensive effort against Lincoln – but with more offense than the regular-season meeting.

“We need to come out from the first whistle,” Schweizer said. “We didn’t move the ball very well the first time we played them so that’s one thing we’re working on – possession and patience. Defensively, I thought we did very well. However, we didn’t have the ball in our offensive zone enough.”

The team’s mindset will also be a factor, and Schweizer thinks it’ll be right where it needs to be. Coming off three straight tough years in Division I, the ’Canes have embraced their opportunity in D-II from the beginning. Now they’re ready to seize another chance.

“I want to make sure they recognize how big it is and what a great opportunity it is for them,” Schweizer said. “They’re excited. They’re not ready to be done. They want to take it from the first day to the last day. I think this is the type of group that can control the emotions and not get overly excited. It’s one thing they’ve been very good at last season, keeping their composure. I think they’re excited but also prepared mentally.”

Once Vets and Lincoln finish up, Pilgrim will hit the field and will have its hands full with No. 3 Burrillville. The second-seeded Pats beat the Broncos 1-0 in the regular season finale, but that was just the third time the Broncos were shut-out, and they finished the season with 50 goals, the second-highest total in Division II.

“They’re very high-powered,” Flanders said. “To shut them out in the regular season was something we were very proud of.”

The Pats may not be able to do it again, but they’ll have a much better shot than they thought they would following Saturday’s quarterfinal game. Starting goalie Hannah Page was given a red card in that game for obstructing a clear path to the goal. Red cards typically carry an additional one-game suspension, but the Rhode Island Interscholastic League reviews each penalty report. In this case, the league determined that no further penalty was necessary. Page will be allowed to play.

“From both standpoints, I think it’s a good thing,” Flanders said. “We’re obviously thrilled that she’ll be back and I would imagine, in the spirit of competition, Burrillville wants to play us at our best.”

Pilgrim expects the Broncos to make Page and the defense work. Facing Westerly in the quarterfinals, Burrillville exploded for a 6-0 win. Taylor Ross, the top scorer in Division II, tallied two goals and an assist.

“We’re going to employ the same type of strategy we used in the regular season,” Flanders said. “We’ll see if they adjust and then we’ll go from there. Our back four have their assignments and they know the game plan.”

At the other end of the field, the Pats will go up against a veteran defense and junior goalie Catherine Keable, who made 12 saves in the shutout of Westerly.

In the regular season meeting, Pilgrim got a late goal from leading scorer Katelyn Vieira, and she’s the logical candidate to find the net again.

“She’s a big-time player and she’s scored a lot of goals at big times,” Flanders said. “She knows how important this game is.”

Vieira and a few other Patriots have been on this stage before, when Pilgrim was upset by Tiverton in the 2012 semifinals. Most of the starters on this year’s team were on the bench for that game, sitting behind a big senior class. But jitters didn’t seem to be a problem in Saturday’s playoff win.

It’s just about executing.

“Burrillville is extremely tough,” Flanders said. “They’ve got some dangerous weapons that we have to contain. The rest is doing our thing.”


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