Dramatic finishes and the playoff season go together like peanut butter and jelly, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a game with a more emotional, more dramatic finish than the Division III girls’ soccer playdown between the sixth-seeded Bellows Falls Terriers and the 11th-seeded Williamstown Blue Devils last Wednesday.
The bare facts say that Bellows Falls won the game, 1-0, in double overtime. The back story and context behind that result is where the drama lies.
Last year, the Terriers had a 1-12-1 record. Nearly all of those players returned this season. They were determined to do better, but history wasn’t on their side. Their goal was to win eight games. They won nine, and earned their first-ever home playoff game in the process.
John Broadley has coached girls’ soccer at Bellows Falls for more than a decade. He has had more than his share of disappointments in the process of building a program from scratch. When he said before the game that the team “was in uncharted waters,” he meant it. At the same time, he was confident that his team would come away with a win.
As for Williamstown, their team was young, agile and untested and had nothing to lose.
The players on both sides were understandably nervous and played that way for the first 15 minutes or so. But as the game went on, the nervousness slipped away and the Terriers and Blue Devils played 80 minutes of intense soccer.
The last 10 minutes of regulation were particularly intense as the Terriers put constant pressure on the Blue Devils net and came up empty. But the Blue Devils were able to mount a few counterattacks, but BF goalkeeper Enny Mustapha came up big with 14 saves.
The far sideline filled up with BF fans as the afternoon went on. The BF football and field hockey teams took a break from practice to offer their support. The boys’ soccer team, eliminated from the playoffs the day before, was there too. By the first overtime, the Terriers’ supporters were roaring, trying to will the girls to victory.
The first 15-minute overtime was scoreless, and the second 15-minute overtime seemed destined to end that way. But Chelsea Wilder ended the game with one of those plays you have blink and rub your eyes and ask yourself whether it actually happened.
With 5:15 left in the second overtime, Wilder took a free kick from about 30 yards out. It lazily drifted toward the Williamstown goal and looked it would sail wide. Instead, it found the upper left corner and pandemonium broke out. Another thrilling chapter to the storybook season for the BF girls had just been written, and the girls and Broadley were understandably overcome with emotion.
During the postgame interview, Broadley could not hold back the tears as he spoke with pride over what his team had accomplished. Seeing that, the players immediately surrounded their coach to give him a show of support and thanks.
“It was a great battle,” he said. “These girls never gave up.”
Broadley admitted that Wilder’s game-winner was “a freak goal, but there are times when that’s what wins the game.”
After a win like that, how do you top it? By upsetting a higher-ranked foe in the next round to set up an improbable semifinal match.
On Saturday, the Terriers beat the No. 3 Rivendell Lady Raptors, 1-0, in an away game to advance to a semifinal against second-seeded Oxbow.
No overtime dramatics were needed, as preparation and strategy were the keys to victory. Advance scouting identified the two Rivendell players who were the primary scoring threats, and the BF defense shut them down.
Sara Dumont, who scored 21 goals in the regular season, got the game’s only goal in the 55th minutes off a free kick by Lydia Pedigo. Mustapha earned her second straight playoff shutout with 12 saves.
The semifinal is scheduled to be played in Bradford on Wednesday. Win or lose, the Terriers girls have already made history, and laid down a foundation for their successors to build upon.
• It’s been a long time — 1997, to be exact — since the Bellows Falls boys’ cross country team won a state championship. But the Terriers were in the winner’s circle on Saturday in the state championship meet at Thetford Academy.
The Terriers won the Division III title with 44 points. BFA-Fairfax took second place with 58 points, while Thetford and Rice had 59 and Stowe finished with 60 to round out the top five teams. For coach Tim Eno, who succeeded the legendary Russ Pickering 12 years ago, it was his first state title.
John Punger (18:49.1) led the Terriers with second place finish, while Collin Johnson (19:37.5) was eighth, and Timmy Jones (20:13.1) was 13th. Willie Moore (21:24.1) took 27th, Jamie Moore (25:04.1) finished 59th and Will Scarlett (25:26.5) came in 64th. Anna Clark (22:58.7) placed seventh for the Terriers in the Division III girls race.
• Brattleboro’s Jacob Ellis (17:59) placed eighth in the Division I Championship race on Saturday. It was the 10th fastest boys time out of all three divisions, and earned Ellis a spot at the New England Championship in Ponagansett, R.I., in two weeks.
The Colonel boys finished 12th in the Division I race. Spencer Olson came in 75th in 20:07, followed by Allen Unaitis (20:29), Austin Nichols (20:48), and Sam Colleran (21:10).
In the Division I girls’ race, Helen Manning finished 64th in 25:06. Hannah Reichel (67th in 25:40), Leah Silverman (68th in 25:58), Kasey Kidder (73rd in 26:30) and Saskia Bailey-De Bruijn (74th in 26:35) rounded out the top 5 finishers. The Colonel girls also finished 12th in Division I.
• While they’ve been overshadowed by the soccer team, the Bellows Falls field hockey had some playoff success of their own.
The Terriers, seeded fifth in the Division III tournament, beat No. 4 Fair Haven, 1-0, in overtime. Mariah Bennett got the game-winner midway through overtime, when she took a pass from Sarah Wells and put the ball past the fallen Fair Haven goaltender. Terriers goaltender Shea Wilkinson earned the shutout in goal.
With the victory, the Terriers advanced to the semifinals, where they took on top-seeded Missisquoi on Tuesday and lost, 3-1.
• After Brattleboro, Bellows Falls and Leland & Gray all lost their first round playoff games last Tuesday, the last local team standing was Twin Valley. So, you almost had to figure that the team that didn’t have a home game all season due to Tropical Storm Irene and struggled through a chaotic year would be the only team to advance past the first round.
The No. 6 Wildcats defeated No. 11 Twinfield, 2-1, in a Division IV playdown game at Brattleboro’s Sawyer Field last Wednesday. Twinfield scored first in the 16th minute when a free kick taken by Miguel Gonzalez deflected off the knee of Henry John and past Wildcats goalkeeper Sam Molner.
That was the last ball that got past Molner, who made six saves in his first career playoff start. The Wildcats got the equalizer on a Colin Lozito penalty kick in the 59th minute. Dylan Brage then scored the winning goal in the 73rd minute, set up with passes by Dal Nesbitt and Lozito.
Twin Valley kept the run going with a shocking 6-1 rout of the No. 3 Chelsea Red Devils in a quarterfinal on Monday. The Wildcats broke a 1-1 tie in the first half with 5 unanswered goals. Nesbitt scored twice, Lozito had 3 goals, and Tony Tarr also scored. The Wildcats are scheduled to play No. 2 Sharon Academy (14-2) in a semifinal match on Wednesday.
• Brattleboro kept it close, but the 12th-seeded Colonels were ultimately no match for the fifth-seeded BFA-St. Albans Comets, who won last Wednesday’s Division I playdown game, 3-0.
The Colonels had their share of injuries and hard luck this season, so given those circumstances, a 4-8-3 finish doesn’t seem so bad, and a 3-0 loss on the road to a faster, more skilled opponent is nothing to be ashamed of. If the prime lesson for a high school athlete is to learn how deal with adversity, and still play hard to the end, these girls passed the test.
• Leland & Gray had an equally tough year as a team that never quite got it together. As the 15th seed in the Division III tournament with a 3-12 record, the Rebels drew one of the best teams as their first round opponent, the third-seeded Oxbow Olympians, and lost, 7-1, last Wednesday.
It was a 2-1 game at the half, as Callie Ginter scored from Nicole Sherman for the Rebels’ only goal. Oxbow poured it on in the second half with five unanswered goals.
• It wasn’t the ending to the season that they hoped for, but considering that Brattleboro was winless last season, the Colonels have little to complain about.
Edged out for the final playoff spot in the Division I tournament, the Colonels played the Essex Hornets in a consolation game at Natowich Field on Friday night and rolled to a 41-20 win to finish the season at 5-4.
Quarterback Tyler Higley threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. Hassan Cansler had two touchdown catches, Soren Pelz-Walsh added another, and Mac Paige returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown. Paige also had a touchdown run.
The victory provided a nice symmetry to the Colonels’ season. Brattleboro started the season at home with a comeback win over Essex, and ended the season at home with a rout of the Hornets. Given how many underclassmen are on this team and how they got their first taste of what it’s like to win games, this season might be the start of better things for the Colonels in the years to come.
• Saturday night’s game between Bellows Falls and Springfield was postponed by Saturday’s snowstorm. The game was rescheduled to Thursday night at 6:30 in Springfield.