NEWTON, Mass. – Shannon Fitzgerald scored a brace and tacked on an assist as the No. 2 seed in Division 1 North (and No. 2 ranked team in the ESPNBoston.com statewide rankings) Newton North moved into the sectional semifinals with a 3-0 victory over No. 10 seed Andover on Sunday afternoon.
The final score was comfortable for the Tigers (15-0-2), but the start of the game was anything but easy, as the visitors stormed out of the gates and put pressure on the Newton North back line. Forward Veronica Alois, in particular, caused problems for the Tigers and helped the Warriors (11-5-4) earn three corner kicks in the opening five minutes.
There is a cliché in soccer that goals change games. In the 20th minute, Newton North proved it right again.
A long ball forward by Fitzgerald caught Tigers forward Angela Ward one-on-one with Andover senior defender Sarah Van Antwerp. The two players came together and van Antwerp went to ground, but the official waved play on and Ward took advantage of the breakaway to score what turned out to be the game winner.
Andover head coach Meghan Matson commented, “It stinks because we were dominating to start the game possession-wise and just our opportunities on goal. I think we did a really good job stepping up and winning the 50/50s and being a real defensive presence on the field.”
She added, “It was a non-call that from our perspective should have been a call but it is what it is and you kind of have to move on from there.”
The Warriors had to move on without Van Antwerp, who pulled her hamstring in the collision with Ward. Four minutes after her injury, with Andover still reshuffling its back line, Newton North struck again. Fitzgerald this time was the scorer. With a deft touch to take the ball inside a defender on the edge of the 18, she struck a shot inside the post to make it 2-0.
Newton North head coach James Hamblin remarked, “The first five minutes, I think we were all over the place. They were nervous, excited…I don’t know and to be fair Andover came at us. The first five minutes we couldn’t get out of our own half.”
He continued, “That old cliché - the goal turned the game and they had to take her out and we got the second while they got organized.”
After halftime, Newton North took control of the game with Andover keeper Emily Masterson forced into strong, diving saves at her near post to stop both Ward and Fitzgerald from finding the third goal. Matson acknowledged the improvement in her senior goalkeeper this season.
“This season our starting keeper was out with a concussion and she stepped in and she’s been incredible for us. She’s made some really clutch saves and it’s amazing to see the transformation in her confidence.”
Bay State Conference MVP Christina Callahan and fellow midfielder Amelia Williams started to get control of the center of the pitch in the second half and the Tigers grew increasingly willing to hit long diagonals to the forwards, as the clock ran down.
“We definitely have good power, strength, and speed up top,” noted Hamblin. “The front two of Ang and Shannon are excellent and we’ve had a rotating system on the other forward. We used our pace and power to get in behind them and it worked at times.”
Andover did create a couple of chances in the dying minutes as it grew increasing desperate to find a goal.
Alois took advantage of a slip to break into the box and rounded Tigers keeper Maddie Bledsoe only for right back Maya King to come across the field and make a last-ditch block. A minute later, Alois’ footwork created space at the top of the 18 for Meredith Van Antwerp, but her shot was right at Bledsoe.
As the game entered the final 30 seconds, the Tigers had one more flurry on offense, but Masterson made two sliding blocks in the 18 and one slide tackle well outside of the box. Despite the keeper’s best efforts, the ball fell to Fitzgerald who fired home her second and clinched the game.
Hamblin remarked,” I said to the girls at halftime that the next goal is huge. I said that if we get it, it’s game over. I would have liked for it to come early, not with 10 seconds left, but I thought the more we defended well then the more frustrated that they got and started hitting longer balls that we soaked up.”
Matson was disappointed that the final score was not indicative of how well Andover played against the still unbeaten Tigers.
You look at the score and see 3-0 and think that’s kind of a rough game, but it was definitely not indicative of how the game went,” she said. “To go down 2-0 like we did and keep attacking says a lot about their heart.”
Newton North will advance to Tuesday night’s semifinal at Manning Field in Lynn to take on Masconomet.
The No. 1 seed in D1 North also advanced on Sunday, as Central Catholic (the No. 1 team in the final regular season, ESPNBoston.com statewide rankings) defeated Lincoln-Sudbury, 4-2. It was the second game in a row that the Raiders have won by that score, after giving up only a single goal in the first 17 games of the season. Central Catholic will take on another DCL Large team in the semifinals – No. 5 Acton-Boxborough.
On Sunday, several of the defending state champions advanced in the tournament: In D1, the Needham boys scored late to beat league rival Weymouth, 1-0, in a rematch of last year’s sectional final and the Franklin girls scored five goals to beat league rival Milford. In D2, the Medfield girls went on the road to beat Foxborough, 4-2. In D3 girls, Weston will take on Hamilton-Wenham on Monday.
There is guaranteed to be a new champion in D2 and D3 for the boys, although each of the state champions from 2012 is still alive in the postseason. Groton-Dunstable was moved from D2 to D1 in the Central (D2 no longer exists outside of Eastern Mass.), and pulled off an upset of No. 2 seed Doherty on Sunday. Sutton was also moved during realignment, from D3 to the newly created D4 in Central, and will take on Maynard as the No. 2 seed on Monday.
To this point (although to be fair not all of them have taken the pitch yet) each of the No. 1 seeds are still alive. The biggest upset to this point happened on Sunday evening as the Walpole girls, the No. 19 seed in D1 South, knocked off No. 3 seed Oliver Ames, the Hockomock’s Davenport division champ and 2012 sectional finalist, on penalties after 100 scoreless minutes. It was the second straight PK victory for the Rebels, who also beat No. 14 Plymouth South on Friday. Walpole advances to face No. 6 North Attleborough, which beat Whitman-Hanson, 3-2, in overtime on a goal by Hana Caster. The Rocketeers had their own penalty let off on Sunday when a Panthers PK struck the post in a tie game with fewer than 10 minutes remaining.
The D1 South boys’ quarterfinals are set with four very intriguing match-ups. Top seed and top ranked Silver Lake crushed Milford on Sunday and will host another Hockomock League opponent, Mansfield, on Tuesday. The winner of that game will face the winner of New Bedford (beat Marshfield, 3-1), which spent several weeks ranked no. 1 this season, and Franklin (beat Taunton, 2-1), which took home a Kelley-Rex division title and has only lost once all season.* On the other side of the bracket, Needham will face Brockton (beat Bridgewater-Raynham, 2-0) in a rematch of last year’s first round meeting and the winner faces whichever team advances out of a Top 20 battle between Wellesley (beat Braintree, 4-0) and BC High (beat King Philip, 4-0).
In D1 North, there were a pair of upsets on the boys’ side with No. 13 Malden beating No. 4 Peabody, 1-0, in overtime and No. 12 Lowell advancing past No. 5 East Boston, 3-2, on penalties. Those two will face off in the quarterfinals. Top seed Somerville moved on with a comfortable 4-0 win and will take on a talented Bay State team, Brookline, which beat Lincoln-Sudbury, 1-0). Second seed Madison Park beat Chelmsford, 1-0, and will next face perennial power Acton-Boxborough, which beat Framingham, 1-0, in overtime. St. John’s Prep (beat Andover, 2-0), the No. 3 seed, will play No. 11 Lexington (beat Revere, 5-0) in the final second round match — all to be played on Tuesday.
*Franklin also lost, 2-0, to Attleboro, but the game was officially changed to a 1-0 win after Attleboro was forced to vacate its wins.