DOVER, Mass. -- A pair of teams led by stout defenses and outstanding goalies set the stage for what should be nailbiter of a final as Wellesley and Concord-Carlisle each made their way through the stacked field of the Coaches Challenge Cup.
WELLESLEY 8, WINCHESTER 1: The sixth-ranked Raiders got a tremendous game out of defender Ryan Cassidy, who totaled eight ground balls and played lock-down defense to help slow down the No. 11 Sachems in the first of two semifinals at Dover-Sherborn's Frothingham Field.
Wellesley (5-1) assured itself of a title defense by keeping Winchester's (7-1) dangerous group of shooters far away from Penn State-bound goalie Connor Darcey (11 saves).
At one point in the fourth quarter with the Raider D forcing Winchester to keep passing the ball around the box in hopes of finding any hole to shoot through, Darcey could be heard yelling to his teammates, "You're playing perfect Wellesley! Keep it up!"
"Winchester has shooters and we knew that going in," said Raiders head coach Rocky Batty, whose team took a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter. "Ryan Cassidy controlled things with Darcey and understood that shooters are shooters, and if they got hot, we would be in trouble. They kept it at 16-18 yards. They drew a line and said 'That's it, this is where you guys will play from.'"
The defensive effort allowed Wellesley to push the transition, and while that didn't always lead to goals, it allowed the Raiders to get settled and at least work long possessions to make the Sachems defense work.
Offensively, Brian Pedersen had a hat trick and Peter Crane notched three assists as Wellesley built a 7-0 lead before Winchester got on the board early in the fourth quarter.
"It was a great team effort overall," Cassidy said. "Our team defense is something we take pride in. We don't have any real stars, we just try to play the fundamentals and work as a unit. This year we have a no-name defense. We try and keep each other as one unit and we do that and stay with the fundamentals, that's when we're most successful."
Despite suffering defeat for the first time this season, Winchester coach John Pirani recalled a similar situation last year where his charges suffered a big loss to Hingham but bounced back to push the Harbormen to a one goal game in the playoffs.
"The reason for the tournament is that we wanted great competition in the middle of the year," Pirani explained. "It's a response to the growth of the game and the risk/reward when you engage in that kind of endeavor is that you might get your head handed to you, 8-1. The reward is that you get the experience of playing a really rigorous opponent who prepares you for tournament play later on."
"We lost to Hingham last year, 16-5, and then came within an eyelash of beating them in the postseason," he continued. "I told the kids, 'I don't know how its going to turn out but I do know that we will be better prepared because we had this experience.'"
CONCORD-CARLISLE 9, HINGHAM 4: The eighth-ranked Patriots will face Wellesley in the title game for a second straight year, getting two goals apiece from Jackson Finigan, Tim Badgley and Kevin Delehey and producing a similarly efficient defensive effort to stifle the No. 3 Harbormen in the day's final contest.
Doug Gouchoe stopped ten shots in the cage while Henry Bumpus and Evan Boynton anchored the defense and didn't allow Hingham's (6-1) talented attack group to get anything going.
The Patriots (5-0) kept Hingham off the scoreboard until the third while sniping five of their own. Dave Freitas and Noah Ellis tried to jumpstart the Harbormen, notching back-to-back goals, but C-C quickly put down any hopes of a comeback by reeling off the next three scores.
"I thought it was a great team win," Gouchoe said. "We were firing on all cylinders and playing together on defense. Our energy feeds off our defense. If our defense plays well, our offense is going to have that confidence to go to the net and score."
Also standing out the crowd for C-C was two-way midfielder Mike O'Brien, who scored the first goal after Hingham's two and basically never left the field as he continually hustled back and forth between both ends.
"Our defense has been phenomenal all year," O'Brien said. "We have four solid defenseman we can rotate, our defensive middies, even our offensive middies that go back and play defense. It's really a six-man effort back there. Doug's at the heart of it making big saves but we also try to limit teams from getting good shots on him."
Added C-C coach Tom Dalicandro, "Mikey's the heart and soul of the team. He's a three-sport star and was a two-way star for us today. We told him after the first game he has to stay on the field as long as he can and not come off until he's dead."
With a big smile, Dalicandro added, "And then he's still going to stay on."