NATICK, Mass. – It was always going to be a challenge to take on the top seed in the Div. 1 South bracket on the road, but when Natick scored just six minutes into Wednesday night’s quarterfinal matchup, the road got even steeper for North Attleboro.
The Rocketeers pressed and harried the Redhawks throughout the game and created several scoring opportunities, but were never able to find a breakthrough. Natick added a second with 20 minutes remaining and closed out a 2-0 victory that ends a roller coaster fall for North, which changed coaches midseason in the midst of winning the program’s first league title.
“I thought we played well,” said North coach Bill Wallace. “We knew what they were, we new what we had to do, but they sprung the one kid open and she finished.”
The opening goal came after North had pushed forward into the attack. Ashlyn Gaulin had a chance when the ball was cut back to her in the box but the shot was sliced wide. Just a minute later, Natick broke quickly and decisively with Gwyn Godin starting things with a through ball to Sheila McQuillen who then laid it off to her right for a one-time finish by Julia Adelmann.
North goalie Nina Beauvais> would make two saves in the half but was largely untroubled, as the combination of Emily Chiasson and Rachel Labonte cleaned up most of the Natick attacks as they got near the final third. On the other side, North had several chances to find an equalizer.
Just two minutes after Natick’s opener, Emma Gaulin cut in from the left and took aim at the far corner, but her deflected shot was held by Natick keeper Ashley Bianco. Five minutes later Aine Mendonca, who had a solid box-to-box game for the Rocketeers, intercepted an outlet pass and let fly from 25 yards forcing Bianco into another save.
Ashlyn and Emma Gaulin combined on the left in the 17th minute before squaring to Haley Guertin in the middle of the box. North’s leading scorer tried to lay it off for Kayla Pasquel but the pass had a little too much on it and Bianco was able to smother the chance.
Gaulin and Guertin were a constant thorn in the side of the Natick defense and it started with the work rate on the defensive side of the ball. The forwards started the North pressure, set the tone, and pushed the Rocketeers up the pitch.
“They knew going into it that they were basically going to have to disrupt four at the back and that’s what they did,” said Wallace. “We had some shots, we had some chances. We were first to the ball a lot.”
Labonte nearly evened the score with a ridiculous effort in the 33rd minute as her free kick from the other side of half took one big bounce in the box, sailed over the head of Bianco, and went just wide of the post.
In the first minute of the second half, North’s pressure again created a chance when Emma Gaulin stole a pass on the right and hit an early cross that found Guertin’s head but again the shot flashed wide. North took a different tack in the second half, backing off the Natick back line and allowing sideways passes but keeping the pressure high in the middle of the pitch.
“They play laterally very well,” said Wallace. “In the first we chased a little bit, in the second half we tried to play low pressure up top and press in the middle.” When asked how tough it was to break Natick down, especially after it took the lead, Wallace admitted, “I think they’ve only given up three or four goals all year.”
In the 58th minute, the home team doubled its lead. A free kick was given just in front of the North bench and the ball was played into the box by Rachel Jasinski. Godin rose highest at the back post and nodded it back towards the penalty spot where McQuillen was waiting to side foot the ball home for a 2-0 advantage.
Wallace said, “She got in behind the defense and on free kicks, anything can be dangerous. Rachel was amazing on her free kicks. She was hitting it 50-60 yards.”
Three minutes later Guertin had a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box that went wide and Labonte had a free kick from a dangerous area but could not get it to dip in time. With three minutes left in the match, Mendonca stepped forward and hit a high, looping shot that Bianco watched land on top of the goal.
“We tried to switch the formation with the timeout [in the 67th minute]” Wallace said. “I thought Emily Chaisson handled it really well in the midfield.”
The Rocketeers finished the season at 14-4-2.