Pats cruise to fifth straight


The Pilgrim girls’ lacrosse team fell behind 1-0 on a goal by Michaela Benoit in Monday’s game against Smithfield, but no one was too concerned. Everybody knew the drill.

“Believe it or not, our last four or five games we’ve been down 1-0 or 2-0, and then we come back,” Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders said. “It’s almost like we need that initial wake-up call. That’s why I was used to it today. It didn’t even phase me as a coach.”

And, true to form, the Pats came roaring back. They scored the next seven goals, and the game was never close again, as Pilgrim won 18-5 for its fifth straight victory.

The Pats are now 6-1, with their only loss coming to unbeaten Narragansett by a single goal in the second game of the season. They’re alone in second-place in Division III-North – behind Narragansett – and they have the second-best record in the entire division.

“We’re doing really well,” said junior attacker Haley McCusker, who had six goals on Monday. “We focus hard. After we win a game like this, we don’t sit there like, ‘Yay, we won the game.’ We focus on the next game.”

It’s showed. After the loss to Narragansett, Pilgrim beat Chariho – which is 5-2 – by a 10-9 margin, but hasn’t played a close game since. It beat North Providence 15-8, beat 5-2 Mount St. Charles 23-15, knocked off Burrillville/North Smithfield 17-6 and then took care of Smithfield.

In the team’s six wins, it has outscored its opponents by over eight goals per game, and the Pats have scored the second-most and given up the second-fewest goals in D-III.

The only team Pilgrim hasn’t played yet is 2-4 Scituate, making the sample size at this point in the season pretty convincing.

“We’ve been clicking,” Flanders said. “We’ve been sharing the ball and moving it around and good things have been happening. We’re happy the direction the program is growing. The girls are embracing it and loving it and having a good time.”

Almost immediately after Benoit scored to give Smithfield the one-goal lead, which happened 34 seconds into the game, Pilgrim came right back. Michaela Giuttari scored 33 seconds later, and McCusker got on the board less than a minute after that.

The Pats were off and running. Four minutes later, McCusker made a jump pass to Betsy Heidel in the middle of the field and she scored past Smithfield goalie Danielle Smith for a 3-1 lead.

McCusker scored her second goal a minute later after two spin moves, and Heidel added her second of the day 18 seconds later after winning the ensuing draw.

Two minutes after that, Cara Beneduce bounced one home off a free position, and Giuttari sprinted all the way from midfield to the goal and scored to make it 7-1 with not even 10 minutes gone in the half.

“It’s an exciting team to watch,” Flanders said. “They’re really into it. They’re fit and they’re healthy and everything is good right now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything stays the same way.”

Molly Smith temporarily stemmed the tide for Smithfield, as she scored on Pilgrim goalie Kayleen Murphy – who was barely tested all day, having to make just four saves – to make it 7-2, but McCusker scored a minute later on a free position to up Pilgrim’s lead to six goals once more.

Elise Flanagan closed the gap on a free position for the Sentinels, making it 8-3, and the game seemed to slow down for a few minutes. Neither team scored again until there were two minutes to go in the half.

But the Pats made the most out of the short time. First, Heidel found Erica Hammond on the right, and Hammond put a shot between the legs of Smith for a 9-3 lead. After Benoit scored for Smithfield on a free position, Pilgrim re-took possession trying to wind down the clock at the end of the half.

Giuttari held the ball on the left side until there were 24 seconds to play, then attacked the net. She executed it perfectly, scoring to make it 10-4.

There were still 14 seconds left, though, and Heidel won the draw for the Pats and got the ball quickly to Giuttari, who scored once more with just four seconds left for her second goal in 10 seconds.

Pilgrim went into the half comfortably ahead 11-4.

“They went into their stall and when it was time, they hit the go switch and they went hard at the goal,” Flanders said. “Then we ended up, 14 seconds left, getting the green light and Giuttari went in and scored again.”

The second half was all Pilgrim, as Smithfield barely managed to touch the ball. Amibeth Marks scored 1:20 into the half, and McCusker scored at the 17:10 point to make it 13-4. She scored again two minutes later, and after Molly Smith scored for Smithfield, McCusker, Heidel, Marks and Hammond all scored again to finish the job.

“Giuttari is a huge factor for us,” Flanders said. “Heidel, Marks, Haley, they’re all weapons on whatever day we choose for them to be weapons. If another team does decide to take away Haley or Michaela, then we just go some place else. That’s the way we’ve been doing things.”

The win came against a Smithfield team that is likely the fifth-best team in the division, another feather in Pilgrim’s cap.

As of now, it’s all going their way. The team is winning, and McCusker is sixth in the state with 43 points, while Heidel isn’t far behind with 30. On Monday, McCusker had six goals and an assist and Heidel had three of each. Giuttari added four goals and an assist, Marks had two goals, Hammond had two goals, Cara Beneduce had a goal and two assists, Julianna Mollo and Sarah Reilly had two assists apiece and Ashley Hager and Kelsey Martin each had one assist.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons, and we have a lot of fun utilizing them,” Flanders said.

Pilgrim’s next game was scheduled for Wednesday against Division II Warwick Vets, with the results unavailable at press time. After that, it will resume league action on Friday at Westerly at 6 p.m.

And then, it’s a re-match with Narragansett. The Pats will host the Mariners on Wednesday, May 8 at 5:15 p.m.

They’ve had it circled for a while.

“I just think that that one loss is still tattooed in their head,” Flanders said. “That’s their drive to keep taking it one game at a time going through the season. That Narragansett game still is embedded in their head.”


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