Kaitlyn Welch makes a kick save during action against Stevens in Claremont on Saturday. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
October 22, 2012CLAREMONT — With six consecutive Final Four appearances entering this year, it's hard to call the Newfound field hockey team a Cinderella story.
However, after an 8-6 regular season, the Bears were the 12th seed in the playoffs and if they were going to make it seven appearances in a row, it was going to take some upsets, which would certainly qualify the Bears as a Cinderella team.
And thanks to Allie Symonds, Cinderella's going to the ball.
The Newfound junior scored with 1:06 left in the second overtime to propel the Bears to a 2-1 victory over fourth-seeded Stevens at Monadnock Park in Claremont on Saturday evening, earning her team its seventh-straight trip to the Final Four.
"It feels amazing," Symonds said minutes after igniting the large group of Bear fans in attendance into a frenzy. "Especially since I missed a couple in the first overtime.
"Everyone was telling me not to get down," she said. "I'm just in shock now."
The game was originally scheduled to be played on Friday afternoon, but Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the Friday schedule and the game was moved to Saturday. However, the field still bore many of the effects of Friday's rain, evidenced by the flying divots on just about every hit.
Seemingly everyone in attendance was braced for a showdown of penalty corners, which was 1:06 away from happening when Symonds found a rebound of an Amber Plummer shot just sitting in front of her with a wide open net and buried the ball.
Coach Karri Peterson noted that the entire game, the ball had been bouncing the other direction off the goalie's pads, but this time, it went right where it needed to, ending the possibility of going to penalty corners.
"I just don't think there's a good way after the two overtimes," the veteran Bear coach said.
Early on, the Bears seemed to have the advantage, as they controlled the play with some good offensive chances, including a pair of corners early, one of which saw a Lexy Tomassetti shot sail wide.
Stevens did have a chance, but Kaitlyn Welch was up to the task in the Newfound net and the Bears turned the ball right around.
With 22:22 to go in the first half, Karissa Bony got the Bears on the board, as she pushed home a shot for a 1-0 lead.
Newfound continued to pressure, getting a couple more corners and even appeared to have a 2-0 lead, but a whistle blew prior to the ball going in the cage, negating the lead.
The Cardinals finally came back and got some pressure on the Newfound defense and broke through with 9:33 to go in the first half, tying the score at one.
Welch made a couple of very nice saves in the final minutes of the half, while Kayla Messersmith and Courtney Douville chipped in with great defensive stops and the teams went to halftime tied at one.
The second half featured a lot of back-and-forth action, with neither team getting tons of pressure early on, though both goalies did make early saves.
The Bears slowly began to get the offensive pressure going and Bony, Symonds, Plummer, Alaina Plankey and the rest of the offense had some solid chances in the final minutes of regulation, but the second half ended with the game still tied at one.
The first 15-minute overtime started out with a nice Welch save right out of the gate, as the seven-on-seven format opened the field up. Stevens had a corner go wide and Newfound had a pair of corners stopped by the Cardinal defense. Tori Markiewicz made a nice pass in to Symonds, who just missed the cage and Symonds returned the favor with a nice cross to Markiewicz, but the ball wouldn't go in. Douville and Messersmith continued to shine on defense and Welch made a nice kick save in the final minute of the first overtime to send the game to another extra frame.
Newfound had an early corner, but couldn't convert and Plummer and Symonds had a chance that was stopped by the Stevens goalie. Markiewicz had probably the best chance of the entire game midway through, breaking in on net, but the goalie came out and made a huge save and then the defense cleared the rebound from the goal mouth.
Finally, on their second corner in just a few minutes, the Bears got what they were looking for and were able to enjoy the ride home with smiles on their faces.
Peterson was pleased with her team's overtime play again, as the Bears proved seven-on-seven can be productive, despite not practicing it much all year.
"There wasn't too many times in the past that we won in overtime," Peterson said. "But I changed it up this year and put more focus on the defensive end, so we're not going to give up any breakaways."
What was also impressive was that the same seven players were on the field for the entire two overtimes, as well as the entire regulation time. Markiewicz, Plummer, Symonds, Douville, Messersmith and Welch played all 88:54 of the game, and though they may have been tired, they didn't slow down. That was a testament to the team's conditioning.
"I told them, you get mad at me for all the running you do every day, all season long," Peterson said. "But it makes a difference."
The Bears were in action in the Division III semifinals after deadline Tuesday against top-seeded Derryfield. The Cougars beat Newfound 1-0 in the first game of the season back in August.
"I think we just have to keep running, stay positive and we can't hang our heads," Symonds said of the matchup with the Cougars. "We've come a long way since game one."
Check our Facebook page (Salmon Press Sports – Wolfeboro) for updates. The finals are set for 5 p.m. at Bedford High School on Sunday, Oct. 28.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126