Panthers run past Titans in semis

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Eventual state champion Johnston eased past Toll Gate, 12-1, on Thursday afternoon in the Division III girls’ lacrosse semifinals.

Johnston sophomore Bianca Robbins led the way scoring four goals with one assist, and junior Grace Sarah also netted four goals in the contest.

Johnston, senior goalie Jacsmile Cassion, had seven saves in the contest, while Toll Gate sophomore Kylie Russo finished with eight stops.

Both teams came into the game at 10-2 in league play. Johnston was the No. 2 seed with Toll Gate just below at No. 3.

Toll Gate head coach Jim Areson is the older brother of Johnston head coach Jay Areson, which made for a bit of sibling rivalry.

The Panthers were strong out of the gate, jumping out to an 8-0 lead in the first half.

“I told them that we needed to come out big,” Johnston head coach Jay Areson said. “Let’s get explosive. I know we can score. We’re definitely one of the top scoring teams in the state.”

Just 50 seconds into the game, Robbins took the ball from coast to coast before passing in front to Kaylee Lameiro for a goal, giving Johnston a 1-0 edge. Two minutes later, Gabby Sauro found Sarah in front, making it 2-0.

With 19:46 left in the first half, Gabby DiRaimo went the length of the field, putting the Panthers up 3-0.

Five minutes later, senior defenseman Sam Hardman picked off an outlet pass from the goalkeeper, Russo, before dishing to Sarah, who scored on an indirect free position, increasing the Panthers edge to 4-0.

With 11:25 left in the half, Hardman fed Lameiro, who lit the lamp, extending Johnston’s edge to 5-0.

Toll Gate’s best chance in the first frame was when Kate Godfrey passed to a driving Lily Fortin, but the senior attacker’s shot deflected off of the crossbar. Moments later, Toll Gate’s Laurel Ten Eyck had a backhand attempt denied by Cassion.

With 4:24 left, Johnston added to their lead when Sauro assisted to Sarah for a lamplighter, putting the Panthers up 6-0. Then, out of a Toll Gate penalty, Robbins juked by several Titans defenders before firing it past Russo, giving the Panthers a 7-0 edge with 1:50 left in the half. With 17 seconds remaining, DiRaimo scored during a free shot, extending the lead to 8-0.

“Johnston played a really good first half,” Jim Areson said. “They were quicker to pretty much everything. I thought in the second half, we definitely played better. We responded. I thought my kids showed a lot of grit against a very good team and a very good opponent. We just didn’t start off the way I hoped and that’s sports sometimes.”

Overall the Toll Gate head coach was happy with his team’s season.

“This is our second year as a varsity program,” Jim Areson added. “We made the semis. We showed incredible growth. Most of the girls on the team have only been playing lacrosse now for three years. So to make the semis and finish the season at 10-2, it was a nice ride.”

Two and a half minutes into the second half, Toll Gate took advantage of a Johnston turnover and Hirsch put Toll Gate on the board when she put one past Cassion during a free shot, pulling the Titans within 8-1.

After Cassion took the ball away from Toll Gate’s Smith just near the crease, the goalkeeper cleared it down to Robbins, who took it from midfield down and shot it past Russo, putting the Panthers up 9-1 with 17:57 left.

Thirty seconds later, Toll Gate’s Hirsch passed to Ten Eyck in front, but Cassion made a stick save. Two minutes later, Johnston’s DiRaimo passed in front to Sarah for a goal, increasing Johnston’s lead to 10-1.

With 4:15 to play, Johnston added another goal when Robbins found the back of the cage.

Toll Gate’s Russo denied a free shot from DiRaimo with 1:25 left, but Johnston would ultimately score again when Robbins flew coast to coast and scored, giving Johnston a 12-1 lead with 48 seconds to play.

“What an excellent game the defense played,” Jay Areson said. “I can’t say enough about Bianca Robbins and Jacsmile. They played phenomenal defense all year. They came up big when they needed to.”

Jay Areson also couldn’t say enough about his star midfielder.

“Grace Muller controlled the midfield which I knew we could,” Jay Areson added. “We worked on a few things. I went and scouted them and we worked on things that we knew they were going to do. They couldn’t handle the pressure. It was just an all-around team win today. So very proud of them.”

Johnston moved on to face Westerly in the championship game on Saturday. 

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