By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
NORTH EASTON, Mass. – North Attleboro shocked Oliver Ames during the regular season, beating the Tigers for the second year in a row and for the first time in 13 years at Kelly Field. On Thursday night, the two teams met again at Muscato Stadium with far more than bragging rights on the line.
OA had the lead twice, but both times North bounced back and senior forward Hana Caster scored her third goal of the game with just seven minutes remaining to lift to the Rocketeers to a 3-2 victory in the opening round of the Div. 1 South tournament.
When asked how long it has been since North last won three in a row against the Tigers, North coach Glenn Pasquel shook his head and said, “I don’t think it’s ever happened.”
Trying to explain why the sudden success against the Davenport champions, Caster added, “We really play good against teams that are equal to us or even better. When it comes to a team where we know what they’re doing because we do the same things we get up for it.”
The Rocketeers were certainly enthusiastic at the start, but it was the Tigers that jumped into the lead. Following an early chance for Francesca Calabraro that sailed over the bar, OA took advantage of a poor clearance on a corner and Jess Robarge knocked it in from six yards out.
The lead lasted 13 minutes before Caster showed off her wheels to get on the end of a through ball by sophomore Haley Guertin down the middle of the field. Caster raced past the defenders and managed to get there just ahead of OA keeper Regan Benton, took a touch past her, and rolled it into the empty net.
“We told her that we’re not going to put the ball down the lane; we’re just going to pop them up over the top and you chase after them,” said Pasquel.
North Attleboro set out to limit the effectiveness of Calabraro with double teams, but OA still had chances in the first half with Jackie Mills heading straight at North keeper Kiersten Bixby and then twice Lauren Wright went close but could not find the back of the net.
The Tigers pressure paid off in the 35th minute when Calabraro was brought down in the box. Delaney Benton stepped up to put away the penalty and restore the lead. The Rocketeers almost equalized right after the restart but Caster was denied on a breakaway by Regan Benton.
Caster tied the game for a second time nine minutes after the break. Again she sped past her markers on a quick counterattack. Her first shot was saved by new keeper Bethany Dunk but she settled the rebound and fired it into the back of the net.
“You’re up 1-0, you’re up 2-1 and you have to be a little firmer in limiting their chances,” said OA coach Britt Sellmayer. “You know Hana Caster is there and we can’t leave her open and we can’t give her chances and, to be honest, [North] played with more composure.”
The game was mostly a stalemate in the second half, thanks in large part to the play of the North Attleboro defense, which limited OA’s normally potent offense. The Rocketeers central defenders, Rachel LaBonte and Emily Chiasson closed down the middle of the field.
Pasquel said, “Our defense keeps everything together. When times were getting tough, we pulled back a little bit and they stayed together.”
Sellmayer agreed, “I thought their back four was outstanding. We tried to force the ball down the middle and then as the game got closer and tighter our decision-making got worse and worse.”
The Tigers nearly restored the lead in the 67th minute when Kiana Lozzi got free in the six-yard box, but Bixby got down quickly and blocked the chance.
That was a crucial stop, as six minutes later the Rocketeers took the lead. A scramble in front of the OA goal was not cleared properly and Caster managed to escape a crowd, find the ball, and score her third of the night to send the Rocketeers into hysterics.
“That always happens when there is such a big jumble and you see the ball in front of the net and I just got my foot on it,” she explained.
“That was so exciting. There’s nothing better than breaking a tie in a tournament game.”
With three minutes left, OA had one last chance when Delaney Benton got free down the left flank but her cross just missed Calabraro racing in at the back post and went out for a goal kick.
“We have a really, really positive team,” said Caster. “Not even one second of the game were we questioning that we would win.”
Pasquel added, “That’s one thing about this team; they’ll stay together to the end.”
The Rocketeers may get a second straight Hockomock League rival as they await the winner of Franklin and Walpole, which will be played on Friday afternoon.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.