TAUNTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames won both meeting with Taunton during the regular season. but Taunton turned the tables in the postseason to even the the season series. First, Taunton won the coin toss on Tuesday (it was actually names picked out of a hat) so that Thursday night’s Div. 1 South playoff game, the first for Taunton in 27 years, would be at Aleixo Stadium.
Cheered on by a large, partisan crowd, freshman Alana Tavares scored her second goal in as many games (and second of the season) three minutes into the seven-on-seven overtime to break a scoreless deadlock and hand Taunton its first postseason win in program history.
“We came out with energy that I’ve never seen before,” said Taunton head coach Liz Hathaway. “They just wanted it. I think they wanted it more.”
OA coach Abby Tepper echoed Hathaway’s sentiments, giving credit to the desire and urgency of the hosts. “The fact that they were home,” she said, “they had the adrenaline, the crowd, the first time in 27 years, I mean that’s got to get them going and it did.”
The first attack of the overtime period went to OA, but the Taunton defense made the stop and quickly transitioned down the other end of the field. Senior Liana Duartebullied her way past three OA defenders to create the scoring chance and on the third rebound Tavares was on hand to knock in the loose ball.
“That kid is definitely a spark plug,” Hathaway said of Duarte. “She has the biggest heart and talk about wanting it…she definitely wants it.”
Taunton assistant Mike Fox, who took over for Hathaway after the birth of her child during the season, added, “Graduation is coming in June and…three very vital seniors in the program are leaving us to go forward in college and it was a nice opportunity to maybe have a freshman take that torch and start carrying it.”
OA senior goalie Caitlin Grant nearly kept out Taunton in overtime, sliding out and using her whole body to stop not only Duarte’s initial shot but also the first rebound. In fact, OA would not have even gotten to the overtime, if Grant had not come through with a kick save in the final seconds of regulation to deny Diana Brens off a Tavares assist.
Tepper said, “I told her before the game, ‘You’re a top goalie in the league and you need to play like that. Play on your toes, be ready,’ and she was ready. She had two saves before the goal went in, so not her fault at all. We just didn’t clear it off the pads quick enough.”
What made the victory even more impressive for Taunton is that the Tigers were playing without leading scorer Kya Enos. The senior forward was sidelined with a concussion and forced to miss the playoff game, but for Hathaway and Fox this was a sign of the team’s depth.
“That just goes to show how much they all want it and how much of a team sport this is, not just heavily relying on one player,” said Hathaway. Fox noted, “We spoke about how we could use her injury as a scapegoat and play down or as a springboard and play better and we saw how the girls used it for 60-plus minutes.”
It was a game that featured back-and-forth action, but few clear-cut chances for either team. In the first half, neither team was able to put a shot on target and the two goalies only combined for three saves in regulation.
In the 17th minute, Sarah Stevens set up Hannah Stryke, but the freshman’s first-time shot was just wide of the post. Ten minutes later, Taunton nearly created an opening goal with a straightaway shot by Cierra Bartel off a Brens pass that also went wide.
Defensively, both teams looked strong, despite the youth that both teams had out on the field. Taunton had sophomores Kathryn Robinson, Jocelyn Pagliuca, and Rylie Murphy at the back, while OA had freshmen Emily Han and Brynna Courneen making stops in the defensive unit.
Off a second half corner, Murphy blasted a shot that Grant blocked aside and off the post, but the official’s whistle called off the effort. Six minutes later, Taunton again had a good chance when Lauren Torres crossed for Brens but the senior was unable to get a touch to the pass.
The visitors were next to create chances with Maggie Woods got to a loose ball right in front but the shot missed wide and then Woods was fed by Stevens in front but her shot was kicked aside by Taunton goalie Emma Sheehan.
“I think they beat us to 50-50 balls and, as you can tell they wanted it more,” said Tepper, as the Taunton team and its fans celebrated after the game. “I think we were playing on our heels a little bit, we were reluctant, and they were aggressive.”
In the end, it was Tavares, who scored 64 goals for the lacrosse team as an eighth grader, that came through in the clutch with the winning touch. It was just her second career field hockey goal, but it was a memorable one, sending Taunton into the second round for the first time.
“They’ve got to execute and they did,” said Fox, “but it doesn’t hurt to have home-field advantage and I think you can feel the energy especially when we got to overtime. The girls are pumped up, they’re in front of the student body, they’re in front of their families and friends, and it was a pretty special night.”