Santucci, Blue Devils sneak past North Middlesex – Lowell Sun
TOWNSEND — Anytime two of the top field hockey teams in the Mid-Wach get together, coaches and players, even fans know the game might swing on one pivotal moment.
It might be a lucky bounce, an ill-timed violation, or a momentary lapse in concentration. And there is no telling when that linchpin moment might occur.
Wednesday evening at A-1 Auto Stadium, that moment took place just two minutes into the game, when Leominster High’s Gabriella Santucci flipped a backhand shot from about five yards out past North Middlesex senior keeper Carly Shugrue and into the corner of the goal.
And 58 hard-fought minutes later, Santucci’s tally held up, as the Blue Devils held off the Patriots, 1-0.
“It was a soft goal, it wasn’t shot that hard at all. Carly just played the angle wrong. It happens,” said North Middlesex coach Kelly Marciano, whose club had come into the game on a roll. After starting the season 0-3, the Patriots went 4-0-1 in their next five games, with Shugrue recording four shutouts.
Marciano said despite the loss Wednesday, her club has made huge strides over the first half of the season.
“With the effort we gave, it felt like a win to me,” she said. “We’ve played some really good teams along the way. We’re definitely getting closer to where we want to be as we head toward the tournament.”
With its win, Leominster improved to 5-1-1. The Blue Devils had opened the season with an easy 4-0 win over North Middlesex at home but found things much more challenging Wednesday night, on the road.
“They’re a much better team now and we knew that coming in,” said LHS oach Kate Phillips. “They’ve got a really good coach, they played hard.”
After falling behind early, North Middlesex controlled the pace of the game in the first half. The Patriots’ talented underclassmen, including Kendall O’Brien, Sophia Caldwell and Faith Mazza, had success working the ball up the wings. But when they tried to get inside the circle for scoring chances, they found it packed with Blue Devils.
LHS midfielder Gray Dallaire and defender Juliana Pompei led an outstanding defensive effort, which kept keeper Anna Warry from having to make even a single save throughout the game. The Blue Devils’ forwards, including Taylor Boulay, Santucci and Emma Miller Ayala, played the full hundred yards, racing back defensively and helping start the transition game.
“We always say that our offense starts from a good clear,” said Phillips. We were getting that tonight. Anna has been great in goal but any time you can keep the ball away from your goalie, where she doesn’t have to touch it, that’s a good thing.”
Play opened up a bit in the second half, as fatigue began to set in on both sides. Leominster had a pair of outstanding scoring chances, only to be stymied by Shugrue. The first came on a redirect by forward Ashley Contreras off a feed from Santucci. Shugrue made the initial save and the rebound was cleared. The second came in the fourth quarter on a blast by Contreras from about 15 yards away. With a rare clean view, Shugrue made the kick save, directing the ball into the corner.
Leominster returns to action Friday, on the road for a showdown with Oakmont Regional. North Middlesex looks to get back on track Monday at home against Westboro.