Leah McAuliffe scoops up a ground ball during semifinal action against Kearsarge on June 4 at Southern New Hampshire University. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 11, 2012MANCHESTER — Through 12 minutes of the Division III girls' lacrosse semifinals on June 4, the Plymouth Bobcats looked like the team that won the championship last year and played to an 11-3 record this season.
However, over the course of the next 38 minutes, the Kearsarge Cougars looked more like the team that won the championship last year, outscoring Plymouth by an 11-3 margin over that time to take a 12-6 win, ending the Bobcats' season one game short of their ultimate goal.
"They came back strong," Plymouth coach Tom Cowie said of the Cougar comeback. "The ball bounces one way one day, the other way another day."
The Bobcat coach said the problem with his squad's game was actually quite simple.
"We didn't find the net," he said. "We hoped that a few more of those shots would find the net."
The Cougars came out quickly on the Southern New Hampshire University turf, getting a couple of early shots on Plymouth freshman keeper Sierra James, but she turned the first few away.
However, Kearsarge capitalized on their opening pressure and put one past James for a 1-0 lead just 1:37 into the game.
The goal seemed to wake the Bobcats up a bit and they came sprinting back down the field with tons of great pressure and answered the Kearsarge goal just 26 seconds later, as Kenady Kelly fired a shot off the post and Lilly Vittum picked up the rebound and fired it home to tie the score at one.
The Bobcats kept the pressure coming, with Jessie McDonough, Kelly and Leah McAuliffe all getting good looks over the next five minutes.
With 15:39 to go in the first half, it was Kelly who got the Bobcats their first lead, as she fired home a direct shot for a 2-1 lead.
Just more than a minute and a half later, Ann Furbush fired a shot home for a 3-1 lead for the Bobcats, who seemed to be settling in to their offensive rhythm.
Furbush then fired a beautiful pass to McAuliffe with 12:57 to go for a 4-1 lead and the Bobcats were in the driver's seat.
However, the Cougars decided they didn't want to go quietly into the night, as they came right back and started pressuring James at the other end, sending a few shots wide of the net and a few others on net, forcing the Bobcat keeper to make the saves.
McAuliffe, Kelly and Brittany Silva did have chances for the Plymouth girls, but with 4:23 to go in the half, the Cougars cut the lead to 4-2 and less than two minutes later cut the lead again, this time on a top shelf goal to make it 4-3.
James made a couple of big saves on a number of shots close in by the Cougars in the final few minutes, but with seven seconds on the clock, Kearsarge fired another shot into the net to tie the game at four heading to halftime.
Out of the gate in the second half, both teams had offensive chances, with Furbush and Kelly getting the best look for the Bobcats, but the Cougars took advantage first, scoring just 2:21 into the half for a 5-4 lead.
Furbush answered for the Bobcats, as she fired a backhanded, underhand shot through the Kearsarge goalie and into the net to tie the game at five with 19:50 to go.
That was the last time the two teams would be even.
Just more than two minutes later, the Cougars beat James for a 6-5 lead and then over the course of 3:25 beginning with 15:12 to go in the half, Kearsarge put the game away, scoring four goals to up the lead to 10-5 and send the Bobcats reeling.
Teagan Mosenthal scored with 11:22 to go in the game to cut the lead to 10-6, but Kearsarge answered just 14 seconds later to push the lead to 11-6.
Plymouth did its best to try and get back in the game, with Kelly, Mosenthal, McAuliffe and Furbush getting looks at the net, but the ball didn't find its way to the back despite numerous attempts, some right on top of the Cougar keeper.
The Cougars scored a final goal with three seconds left to seal the 12-6 win and advance to the finals, where they were whipped by top-seeded Windham.
"It was a good effort by the kids, but we just didn't get the shots to go," Cowie said. "I'm proud of the team and the effort. We got to the semis, I'll take it."
He credited Kearsarge with being able to change the momentum after the Bobcats took the early lead.
"I give it to Kearsarge," he said. "We let them have the momentum a little bit."
Cowie noted that there were at least six or seven shots that he almost expected to go in the net that never did and credited the Cougar keeper and defense with doing a fine job of keeping them out.
"Sometimes you wonder how they go in, today I thought six or seven were going in and they didn't," Cowie said.
Cowie also praised James for a solid effort in net and noted he was looking forward to having her back next year as the Bobcats look to get back to the title game.
"For a ninth grader, she's tough as nails," he said. "And all the kids have confidence in her."
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126