Less than 16 hours after shocking the Cape Ann League with a 4-3 victory over North Reading, the Newburyport hockey team came back to the Graf Rink Saturday afternoon and handed that win right back, losing 4-3 to a scrappy Saugus.
“It’s disappointing,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen after the loss. “I thought we might come out a little sluggish because of last night, but there are no excuses. They out-battled us. They won the one-on-one battles.”
Newburyport (9-7-1, 7-4-1 in the CAL) started the game Saturday camped out in the Sachems’ end. Newburyport sophomore Scott Webster eventually scored his team’s first goal of the day, slipping the puck past Sachem goalie David Aiken’s right hand. Fellow sophomores Tyson Gudaitis and Conor Brennan had the assist on the play.
But Saugus (5-10, 4-7 in the CAL) answered right back with only 12 seconds remaining in the first period when Joe Russo banged one in past Newburyport sophomore goalie Noah Kolesha to knot things at one going into the first intermission.
Saugus came out swinging to start the second period when Mike Sarnacchiaro aced a slap shot past Clipper freshman goalie Robbie Federico’s left side. Newburyport tied things up three minutes later courtesy of a Travis Wile goal, assisted by Ben Ventura.
With six minutes to go in the second period, Saugus took the lead on another Russo goal set up by Steve Kay. Kay extended his team’s lead with a minute and a half to go in the period on a goal assisted by Pat Cross and Brendan Ronan.
Gudaitis inched Newburyport closer four minutes into the third period on a nice goal assisted by AJ Williams and Brendan Barraclough, but that was as close as Newburyport got.
“We certainly have to play better in between the pipes,” said Yameen, who played Kolesha in goal during the first and third periods and Federico in the second. “I thought a couple of those goals were soft. We’re going to try and get one of (the goalies) hot. That is what we are trying to do. But I give (Saugus) credit, they played harder than us.”
“It’s just our work ethic. These kids have shown terrific work in these two games,” said Saugus coach Jeff Natalucci, whose team beat Amesbury 7-0 last week. “Our record isn’t great right now. It’s very easy to mail it in at this time of the season with just a couple of weeks left, but we are still alive and our guys are still fighting. When you are down 1-0, you can easily pack it in. But then we got the late one and then set the tone early in the second and then we did what we had to do in the third.”
The Clippers have been on a seesaw all season. After starting the season with an alarming 2-5 record, the young team began collecting some wins, starting in Saugus where they defeated the Sachems 2-1.
Newburyport kept rolling after that, picking up wins against their two biggest rivals. The Clippers beat Amesbury by a score of 5-2 and then Triton 5-3, and after that they beat a two-time state champion Canton team 2-1. After tying Lynnfield 1-1 and losing at Masconomet 4-1, the Clippers then put together three straight wins before losing to Saugus on Saturday.
“We kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball,” Yameen said. “We’ve got some tough games coming down the stretch. If we bring that effort against Franklin on Thursday, it’s going to be ugly.”
With five games to go in the regular season, Natalucci’s team is still in contention mathematically to reach the state tournament, though they will have to run the table in order to do so.
“I told the guys, let’s set the bar here, why not? Let’s give this a shot and they have responded,” Natalucci said. “We went 1-9 to start the season and then everybody stepped their game up. Everybody is buying in. We tweaked our system and it’s starting to work.”
Newburyport vs. Saugus NEWBURYPORT Tyson Gudaitis: 1 goal, 1 assist Scott Webster: 1 goal Travis Wile: 1 goal Conor Brennan, Ben Ventura, AJ Williams and Brendan Barraclough: 1 assist each SAUGUS Joe Russo: 2 goals Steve Kay: 1 goal, 1 assist Mike Sarnacchiaro: 1 goal Pat Cross and Brendan Ronan: 1 assist each