Party crashers

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

The Gilford field hockey team mobs goalkeeper Jojo Morris after the final whistle blew in the Eagles' win over Newfound on Saturday. With a win over Pelham one day later on Sunday, Gilford advanced to its second consecutive Final Four as the 12th-seeded team in Division III. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 27, 2014
PELHAM Guess who's back?

One year removed from a historic run that took them to the Final Four, the Gilford High School field hockey team is heading back to Bill Ball Stadium.

On the strength of two straight upset wins on the road in just two days, the 12th-seeded Golden Eagles punched their ticket to their second consecutive Final Four with a 3-1 victory over fourth-seeded Pelham in the Division III quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon. Gilford (8-7-1) will play top-seeded and undefeated Hopkinton High School (16-0-0) tonight, Oct. 30 (7 p.m.) in the semifinals at Exeter High School.

"If you look at our schedule, we were in every single game this year," began Gilford head coach Dave Rogacki. "We played five overtime games... some coaches don't play that many overtime games in their careers. The kids knew they could be competitive. It was just a matter of getting them all to play competitively at the same time."

Just one year after graduating nine senior starters from an Eagles team that went undefeated in the regular season and came within an overtime goal of beating the eventual state champions, Gilford came through with back-to-back strong performances to earn identical 3-1 wins over Newfound (Saturday) and Pelham (Sunday).

"To do this two days in a row... it's so hard, especially going on the road for both games," Rogacki said.

The road towards a state title now goes through a powerhouse in Hopkinton High School. The top-seeded Hawks have rolled through their first 16 games of the year to reach Exeter, outscoring opponents by an impressive 65-9 margin and racking up 10 shutouts. They have looked human during the tournament however, needing double overtime to get by Mascoma in the first round before needing OT once again to beat Sanborn in the quarters. Still, Rogacki knows his team will certainly have its hands full when the squads face off for a spot in the championship game.

"They definitely attack well and they control the ball," said Rogacki of Hopkinton, which knocked Gilford out of the postseason in the 2012 quarterfinals. "They like to play hard ball get that ball down there and hope you make a mistake. We have to use our finesse and slow that down. We definitely have to make adjustments so we aren't trading long balls with them. And we have to make sure they don't overwhelm us with their control. Try and play our game as much as we can and also take advantage of the corners that we get."

In the win over Pelham, the Eagles found themselves with a lead midway through the opening half, as senior Maddie Laflamme tallied on a feed from Kellie Ryan for a 1-0 advantage.

Just five minutes later though, Pelham tied the game with halftime within reach, and the teams were all even at 1-1 for intermission.

The eventual game-winner came midway through the second half, as the Eagles earned a penalty stroke after Pelham's goalkeeper pinned the ball underneath her during a penalty corner.

"The official was right there and blew the whistle," said Rogacki of the play. "You could see the goalie was down on her knees and the ball wasn't going anywhere."

Junior Logan Baxter stepped up and delivered, as she found the back of the cage with a low, hard shot to the left side for a 2-1 lead.

Clinging to the one-goal advantage, the Eagles put the game away with an insurance goal with eight minutes remaining. Freshman Jillian Lachapelle notched the marker, taking a pass from Baxter and scoring to put the visitors up 3-1.

Gilford held on for the win that sent the Eagles to the Final Four, and they enjoyed a big 16-2 edge in shots and 13-9 edge in penalty corners against Pelham.

"We talked about how you have to control the ball and continually keep going," Rogacki explained. "Yesterday doesn't mean anything because it's a new day."

Rogacki lauded the play of Kaitlyn VanBennekum and Shannon Anderson off the bench, as the duo gave the Eagles key minutes in preserving the win.

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