NORTH EASTON, Mass. – North Attleboro kept probing, trying to find a hole in an Oliver Ames defense, but the Tigers held resolute for 66 minutes of Wednesday night’s meeting of defending league champions at Muscato Stadium. Despite North controlling the lion’s share of the possession, it looked like the Tigers would come away with a point.
In the 67th minute, with the help of a massive deflection (and according to the OA bench, a handball on the edge of the box), North found the breakthrough. The first one opened the floodgates and the potent Rocketeers attack put the result beyond doubt, scoring four goals in the final 13 minutes of the game to pick up an impressive 4-0 road win.
“We played a pretty good first half and I don’t think we played better in the second half, but we finished,” said North coach Bill Wallace.
After a strong opening half in which it forced OA keeper Regan Benton into five saves (although none that were particularly demanding), North had two golden scoring chances in the first five minutes after the break.
Ashlyn Gaulin got on the end of Haley Guertin’s flicked header, but flashed her shot just past the outstretched hand of Benton and past the post. Two minutes later, Guertin cut in from the right and teed up Kayla Pasquel who made an unmarked run down the left wing, but the junior’s first-time shot was pulled wide.
When asked if he was starting to think that it may not be North’s night after those two chances went begging, Wallace laughed and said, “Yes, but no two games, no two days are the same. It’s a crazy game and what makes it great is that you can lose control and come out with a positive result and, conversely, you can control a game and come out with a negative result.”
North was dominating possession and controlling the midfield led by senior Aine Mendonca. The young Tigers were struggling to keep the ball against the North press, but when North went forward the OA defensive unit of Maeve Hogan, Athena Sarafoglou, Brianna Gibson, and Gabrielle McLaughlin had an answer.
“They’ve got so much offense up front and we really struggled in the midfield today,” said OA coach Britt Sellmayer. “We can play much better and we need to have a little more composure. We played physical today; the last two games we weren’t aggressive enough.”
Wallace told his team to just keep pushing. He explained, “My halftime speech was pretty simple – patience. You could see we were getting frustrated. I just said, be patient and trust your gut.”
In the 67th minute, North had a long free kick and senior Rachel Labonte played it to Guertin on the edge of the box. Her first effort was blocked but the ball rebounded back to the forward, who took another touch and had a second go. This shot took a huge deflection that wrong-footed Benton and found the back of the net.
Just two minutes later, North doubled its lead. Pasquel took the ball down the outside on the left and got to the byline before crossing to the back post where Mackenzie Rosenberg had found a foot of space. The sub pulled it down, took a touch and hit a half-volley to make it 2-0.
“Kenzi’s goal was a backbreaker,” said Wallace. “Good for her; she makes the most of her minutes when she gets out there and I’m so happy for her.”
Down by two goals, OA still could not find a way to create a chance for Abby Reardon, Jackie Mills, or Anabella Walsh. Sellmayer credited the North defense, including center backs Emily Chiasson and Labonte, and especially right back Sam Hawkins.
He said, “The three players at the back were so solid. I mean, No. 9 (Hawkins) played a great game and we couldn’t match up with her.”
In the 72nd minute, North sealed the points with a third goal. Haley Ferrin flicked the ball into the box and it ricocheted past Benton, who had slid out to stop the first shot. Leah Jette was on hand to tap in. Ally Blaisdell wrapped it up directly off a corner (which came after the best of Benton’s 11 saves) when her cross bounced at the near post and skipped into the back of the net.
“After starting out with Franklin,” Wallace said, “we’re still curious what kind of team we’re going to be. We certainly have the talent, it’s just that we have to out it together in all phases of the game.”
He added, “The girls are thrilled, it’s going to be a fun bus ride home, and then back to work against Canton.”
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