WELLESLEY — The Groton-Dunstable Crusaders are headed to the MIAA Division 2 girls’ lacrosse state championship game against Norwell this (Thursday) afternoon after winning an overtime thriller over the Ipswich Tigers, 10-9, Monday night at Babson College.
The Crusaders offense was sparked by hat tricks by sophomore Sophia Irby and freshman Ellie Eisenklam.
Ipswich ran their offense through Jordan Morrissey, who scored a hat trick of her own, with all three goals coming in highlight fashion — one just seven seconds into the game, another while falling down, and a third on a cut following a wraparound by Ellie Swenson.
After the Crusaders scored three goals in 4:30 to take a 9-8 lead, Ipswich’s Tessa Amoroso tied the game with less than two minutes to go. The finale started when Ipswich goalie Eliza Statile (nine saves) won a race to the end line on the opposite end of the field off a missed G-D shot. It wasn’t the only big play she made, as she denied Sara Walsh on a 2-on-1 with a kick save about six minutes into the second half.
“We knew [Statile] was amazing,” Crusader head coach Sara Valacer said. “She made a lot of saves that a normal person would never make. She is really good.”
The Crusaders had a golden chance to end the game in regulation after Julie King drew a charge, leading to Nicole Wilkinson (two goals, two assists) getting a free run to the goal with 7.5 seconds left. But as she charged toward net, she lost control of the ball, and the clock ran out, pushing the teams into overtime.
In the first overtime, the Crusaders won the draw and worked off 2:57 of the three minute limit before Sara Walsh scored her only goal of the game off an assist from Wilkinson.
In the second overtime, the Tigers controlled time of possession and got one shot on goal that was denied by Maria Antonellis (10 saves). That led to a helter-skelter sequence of events where the teams took turns forcing turnovers until Ipswich’s Delaney Whooley got control of the ball and made her move toward net.
But King made the play of her life by drawing a second charge, and the Crusaders ran out the clock to set off the celebration.
“They’re here to play,” Valacer said of her team’s effort. “If one of them wants it, the rest of them want it. I kept a short roster this season. I was nervous about it, but it proved to be a good thing. They’re obsessed with each other.”
The Crusaders’ depth was tested when Rebecca Herlihy showed up in street clothes after suffering a knee injury following the sectional final win over Grafton. Alexa Stathis was unable to play after falling ill earlier in the day. But once again, the Crusaders’ conditioning paid dividends — the starters toughed out with almost no substitutions.
“They had to really fight for this one,” Valacer said. “We had some girls who hadn’t seen any big games playing today and they really pulled through.”
The Crusaders and the Tigers traveled almost identical paths leading to this game. They had similar records (G-D entering at 13-6, Ipswich entering at 13-5), they both beat two higher seeds on the road in the sectional quarterfinals and semifinals, and they knocked off the highest remaining seed in the sectional final. So it was fitting that their game be as tightly contested as it was, with neither team leading by more than two goals, the draws favoring Ipswich 13-9, and ground balls favoring G-D only 27-25.
The Crusaders will face South sectional champion Norwell for the state championship Thursday, June 18 at Harvard University at 5 p.m. Norwell finished the regular season at 13-5 and earned the no. 1 seed in the South bracket. They defeated Ursuline, Old Rochester, and Cohasset to win their section, then defeated East sectional champion Medfield, 14-9, in the other state semifinal.