By Dan Guttenplan
---- — LYNN — For a short time this season, Carly Brand thought the best moments of her high school soccer career were behind her.
The Newburyport senior made those thoughts a distant memory last night when she scored two goals — including the game-winner — in a 3-0 victory over Hamilton-Wenham in the Division 3 North semifinal at Manning Field in Lynn. The undefeated top-seeded Clippers (18-0-2) will play in a sectional final Sunday for the fifth time in eight seasons. Fourth-seeded Hamilton-Wenham (13-5-3) was one of four Cape Ann League teams to advance to the Division 3 North semifinals.
Brand’s contributions on the biggest stage of the season were particularly satisfying for the senior, who missed a total of 29 games over the last two seasons due to injury. Brand did not log a minute on the field in 2012 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She made her way back for the start of this season, only to suffer a severe ankle sprain during a preseason jamboree. That injury kept her out of the first 10 regular-season games.
“I waited and worked so hard to come back after the first injury,” Brand said. “It was heartbreaking to have that happen to my ankle. It only made me cherish the opportunity to come back.”
Brand has made her presence felt in a big way since her return. With two goals last night, she brought her season total to 13 in 10 games.
Brand broke a scoreless tie midway through the first half when she took a feed from Delaney Bartol and found the back of the net. With less than 15 seconds remaining in the half, she put the game away with a rocket off her right foot that found the top of the net from 25 yards out.
“That was a back-breaker,” Newburyport co-coach Robb Gonnam said. “To get that goal right before halftime, it was a killer for (Hamilton-Wenham).”
Cape Ann League Player of the Year Aly Leahy added an insurance goal four minutes into the second half, making the last 35 minutes a formality. The Clippers have not allowed a goal in 11 games, coincidentally, just about the time Brand returned from injury.
“Carly’s a dominant force,” Newburyport co-coach Kevin Sheridan said. “We’re also very sound on defense, and that allows us to transition to offense. It starts in the back.”
The Clippers will make their first appearance in a sectional final since 2011, the last season in which Brand played an entire season without an injury.
“I feel thankful to be 100 percent,” Brand said. “I feel 100 percent. I still have a cast basically on my ankle and a brace on my knee. I’m so happy to be able to contribute again.”