Ashland scores playoff game’s lone goal to end Wildcats season
By Steve Rogers
WESTPORT — The Division 2-South Sectional Tournament field hockey game came down to one goal and unfortunately for host Westport, it was scored by Ashland High’s Natalie Leone 3:15 into overtime.
Standing on the right side just inside the circle, Leone sent the ball toward the goal where teammate Mihaela Tuballa was waiting along with Westport goalie Sam Mingola. The goalie made a move toward the ball and it struck the side of her left pad, trickled over the goal line and into the cage.
“Coach said that when we get the ball just let it fly and try to get a shot on pads,” Leone said. “(Tuballa) did a great job of kind of blocking the goalie’s view and I was just able to get a shot off and it went in. I was just trying to hit it toward the goal and see what happens from there.”
Just like that Westport’s season came to a stunning close with a 1-0 setback.
“The way that ball bounces, it always come down to that,” Westport coach Susan Fontaine said. “Sam got a piece of it and it rolled in past her. It just grazed her.”
Ashland sent out seniors Nicole Wenzell, Tuballa, Leone, Brianne Maher and Alexandra Lacatena as well as freshman Natalie Leone to play in front of goalie Sarah Trayers during the 7-on-7, 15-minute overtime period.
Westport countered with seniors Jenna Willard, Melanie Smeaton and Kara Borges, juniors Jenny Sherman and Emma Polimeni, freshman Erika Hall and Mingola. Fontaine contended she would rather have not played overtime after watching her team miss a few golden opportunities during regulation time.
“I didn’t want to go into sudden death. I didn’t want to do it because we were dominating them,” Fontaine said. “We should have got something in. We dominated the 60 minutes and still came off with a zero-zero tie.”
Ashland coach Jenna McDermott, who practiced seven-on-seven for just one day, was happy to be able to get into the extra session.
“The overtime group that I had was strong,” McDermott said. “So I was confident going in. I told them to use the advantage of having that extra space.
“We came out strong at the beginning of overtime which I think helped. Basically it came down to getting to the ball first and fortunately it came down to overtime and we got a shot. It worked out to our advantage.”
Ashland advanced to play the top seed in the sectional playoffs, 15-0-1 Apponequet. The squads were to have met Saturday. At the onset of Thursday’s match it appeared No. 17 seed Ashland would be the team bumped from the playoffs and No. 16 seed Westport would be the one advancing.
“We didn’t come out as strong as we’d like,” Leone said. “Our energy was kind of down during warm-ups and I think that unfortunately transitioned over to the beginning of the game.”
The Wildcats took advantage of the visitor’s slow start and kept the Clockers hemmed in their defensive zone for about the opening 12 minutes. During that time Borges had a couple of opportunities kicked away by Trayers and Smeaton was denied twice when she tipped oncoming drives into the Ashland goalie.
The Clockers finally put some offense together but Mingola and the Westport defense combined to repel all Ashland chances. Mingola made three of her five saves in the opening 30 minutes while Trayers made four of her five saves. Ashland, which resides in the Tri Valley Conference, also had a 4-1 edge in penalty corners the first half, but Westport wound up with a 5-4 advantage in the game.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect because we’re in different leagues,” McDermott said. “But it was pretty evenly matched and it was back and forth the entire game.”
Sherman’s long hit six minutes into the second half was deflected and the ball popped up in the air and out of bounds with Borges alone at the left post. Polimeni’s shot was saved by Trayers a short time later. Tuballa was sent in alone on Mingola but the Westport keeper booted her shot aside and stopped the Clockers best second-half chance.
A little more than three minutes into overtime Leone did what no one could do in regulation.
“As the game went on we kind of picked it up a little bit but we were nowhere near where we wanted to be,” Leone said. “Finally we kind of got a second life, a second chance during overtime. We wanted to get that ‘W’ and we got it today.”