With the exception of their upset of the number 1 seed Bromfield in the sectional semifinal, none of their tournament games have been close — and that trend continued Friday when the Crusaders defeated the number 2 Grafton Indians, 13-7, to win the sectional title at Foley Stadium.
Nicole Wilkinson was the catalyst to the Crusader effort. She scored six goals, including five in the first half and each of the Crusaders’ first four. Grafton’s Elizabeth Navin and Lauren Lyver helped the Indians keep it close by each scoring two goals to erase three early deficits and tie the game at 4 with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
But after a timeout by G-D head coach Sara Valacer, the game went sideways and then downhill for Grafton. Three goals in the next four minutes, one each by Katherine Royal, Sara Walsh, and Samantha Smith, boosted the Groton-Dunstable lead to 7-4.
A Grafton timeout couldn’t stop the bleeding. The Crusaders continued the attack. Wilkinson won the ensuing draw and got halfway to the goal before being fouled. On the restart, she finished what she started, sprinting toward the net to score and extend the lead to 8-4.
“Everyone looks up to her,” Valacer said. “It’s Nikki’s game. When she’s on, everyone else is on. They follow her lead. When she stays composed, they all stay composed. She proved that today.”
The Crusaders punctuated their outburst by milking over two minutes off the clock before Sophia Irby scored her second of two goals with five seconds left in the half to finish a 7-0 run and go into the break leading 11-4.
Any fears that the Crusaders might get ahead of themselves and let the big lead slip away were nixed by goalie Maria Antonellis, who made four of her six saves in the second half, including denials of point-blank chances by both Navin and Lyver.
“She’s always on her game,” Valacer lauded. “I’m very lucky to have Maria. She’s a huge asset to the team and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It was an all-around dominating effort by the Crusaders. As the second half progressed, and the Crusaders worked more and more time off the clock, it became evident that Grafton was no match for G-D’s speed, stamina, defense, and athleticism. Even in the final 10 minutes, when the Crusaders played “keep away” on offense, they still had the energy to elude Grafton’s double, triple, and quadruple-teams.
Even when the Indians drew fouls and were awarded clear paths to the net, the Crusader defenders did an excellent job of closing those paths quickly and forcing the Indians to turn back and reset their offense.
Celebration quickly turned to concern, however, as Rebecca Herlihy suffered a freak knee injury as the players mobbed each other after the victory. Her status for the state semifinal against North sectional champion Ipswich is unknown. That game will be this evening, Monday June 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Babson College in Wellesley.
“I had a few girls come up from JV for reasons like this,” Valacer said when asked if the injury would test her team’s depth. “They’ve been playing with us for the past three weeks, so they’ll be ready to step in.”
Ipswich has been on an impressive tournament run of its own, defeating no. 3 Bishop Fenwick, no. 2 Marblehead, and no. 1 Austin Prep on its path to the North sectional title.