The Gilford field hockey team celebrates following a 3-0 win over Winnisquam in the Division III quarterfinal round on Saturday afternoon. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 28, 2013GILFORD – For the first time in 15 years, the Gilford High School field hockey team had a place at the Final Four.
Behind two goals from senior Kelsey Buckley, the second-seeded Golden Eagles reached the Division III semifinals for the first time since winning a state title in 1998 on Saturday afternoon. Gilford held seventh-seeded Winnisquam Regional High School scoreless in a 3-0 quarterfinal round victory in chilly conditions.
"This is unbelievable," said Buckley of the Eagles reaching the Final Four. "This team has come from the bottom up in just a few years. I've been dreaming about this for so long so it's just awesome that we were able to make it."
The loss ended an outstanding season for the Bears (10-4-2), which reached the quarters thanks to a 3-0 win over Laconia in the preliminary round.
"Gilford had their sticks down today and we struggled with stopping their hits," said Winnisquam coach Cherie Snow. "Overall it was a strong season for us. We had our ups and downs and dealt with our share of injuries. But it was a pretty good season for us."
For third-year head coach Dave Rogacki, reaching the Final Four was a culmination of a lot of hard work from his senior-laden group of players.
"They made my job so easy," began Rogacki of his club. "They take care of each other on and off the field. This just proves that student/athletes can be successful. The last few years I think the seniors felt a little disrespected. We have a team of very smart young ladies but they're also very talented field hockey players as well."
Gilford, which went 1-0-1 during the regular season against the Bears, got the scoring started 7:30 into the first half. After a scrum in front of the Winnisquam net, a shot that appeared destined for the back of the net was kept out by senior defender Rachel Willcutt while on the ground. The referee blew the whistle and awarded the Eagles a penalty stroke after the Bears were penalized for "stopping a sure goal," and Buckley buried the shot up high and off keeper Kendra Lonergan's blocker for a 1-0 advantage.
"We've been practicing all season for that so I felt very prepared," said Buckley of the penalty stroke. "I just tried to shut everything out when I was up there and fortunately it worked out."
Winnisquam, which came out of the gates fast in dominating the first 10 minutes of play, was unable to cash in on an opportunity just two minutes later, but the Bears looked as though they had tied the game with 7:45 left in the half. A cross from Lauren Bolstridge was knocked into the back of the cage by Haley Poirier, but after convening briefly, the officials ruled that the goal was scored with Poirier's leg, and the tally was waved off.
"Winnisquam is always going to start strong," said Rogacki. "We talked about how we have to weather the storm and then come right back at them."
Using that momentum, Gilford capitalized just 1:19 later. Off a penalty corner, junior Maddie Laflamme made a nice pass across to senior Rachel Blandford, whose shot trickled past Lonergan in net. Buckley was right there on the doorstep, pushing the ball into the back of the net for her second tally of the half and a 2-0 lead.
"I thought we dominated parts of the game and we came back (after the penalty stroke)," began Snow. "But we weren't able to finish off some of our chances, and Gilford seemed to be ready to capitalize."
The Eagles (14-0-2) added an insurance goal with 21:34 left in the second half, as Logan Baxter put home a tally in traffic to give the hosts a commanding 3-0 advantage.
"We spent the last few days figuring out what to do against each of their players in preparation for this game," said Rogacki. "We knew we could play with them but we just had to do a better job of hanging onto the ball."
Lonergan paced Winnisquam with 14 saves in the cage, while the Bears held a slight 3-2 edge in penalty corners.
"We knew it was going to be a great game," said Buckley of her expectations. "(Winnisquam) always plays with a lot of heart and we had two really close games with them already this season."
Gilford advanced to the Final Four, which was scheduled for after deadline on Wednesday night against third-seeded Berlin at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter. Full coverage of that game can be found in next week's newspaper.