Gilford’s Mollie Dignan tries to regain possession from a Hopkinton player during first half action on Oct. 20. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 22, 2012GILFORD – Throwing everything at the goal in a frantic finish, the Gilford High School field hockey team did everything but come up with the tying goal on Oct. 20.
Sixth-seeded Hopkinton took a two goal lead and held on for dear life, as the third-seeded Golden Eagles fell just shy in a 2-1 loss in the Division III quarterfinals. Gilford finished its season 12-3-1.
"We were right down there," said Gilford coach Dave Rogacki of his team's scrambling efforts to score the tying goal. "We just couldn't finish. It was good that our offense got a lot of opportunities but we just weren't able to capitalize on them."
Hopkinton coach Patti Connolly said the experiences her team drew from last year helped get the Hawks to the semifinals. Connolly's team lost in the quarterfinals a year ago.
"My girls were hungrier and I think that had something to do with not wanting to lose again like last year," Connolly said. "But Gilford is a great team. They've got some very strong athletes and they were close to coming back at the end there."
Hopkinton (12-4) led 1-0 at halftime thanks to a goal with just 2:55 left in the opening frame. The Eagles struggled in the early going before settling down as things progressed.
"I think we caught them off guard a little bit early," Connolly said.
Some problems that plagued Gilford earlier in the year came back to bite them in the first half.
"We didn't clear the ball out hard enough and our feet kept getting in the way," Rogacki said. "Those two were killers."
Mollie Dignan nearly tied the game early in the second half, as her shot off a penalty corner was knocked down with the blocker by Hopkinton goalkeeper Maddy Bergathon. The Eagles applied some pressure after that, but finishing in the offensive third of the field proved difficult.
The Hawks would score what ended up being the game-winner with 17:08 to play. Star player Brittany Marshall took the initial pass from a Hopkinton penalty corner on the left side of the circle, and uncorked a bullet shot that beat Gilford keeper Emily Arnold to the near post for a 2-0 advantage.
"We haven't given up a goal like that all season," admitted Rogacki. "But Marshall is one of the top players in the state so she can do things like that."
Connolly wasn't surprised Marshall was able to find the back of the cage from that angle.
"That corner is designed for her so when she has that much time, it's hard to stop her," the Hopkinton coach explained. "That was an awesome goal."
The Eagles didn't go away however, picking up the intensity despite being down by two tallies. That pressure paid off with 12:21 remaining, as Kelsey Buckley fed the ball into the middle of the circle. Rachel Blandford kept it moving to the back post, where sophomore Becky Zakorchemny swept it into the net to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
"You can't even think about the scoreboard in that situation, you just have to play your game," said Rogacki.
The Eagles kept the pressure going over the final 12 minutes, but Hopkinton was able to clear the zone and keep the ball away from its cage. Connolly called a timeout with 3:06 remaining, hoping to set things up for the final blitzkrieg.
"I just told them to get the ball over half field and take as much time as we could off the clock," Connolly said. "They were throwing everything at us so we just needed to keep it as far from our goal as possible."
Hopkinton managed to hold on in the waning minutes, and the Hawks advanced to play second-seeded Berlin in the semifinals.
Despite the loss, Gilford made its deepest postseason run since winning back to back state titles in 1997 and 1998. The good news for the Eagles is they return almost their entire starting lineup next season.
"Overall you can't complain about the year that we had," admitted Rogacki. "We'll tweak a few things that we didn't do well but I think we only gave up 12 goals all season in 16 games. That's pretty impressive for this group."