By Mac Cerullo
---- — WELLESLEY — For the first time in program history, the Newburyport girls lacrosse team is going to the state championship game.
After trailing for virtually the entire game, the Clippers (15-4) came back with a huge second half to overpower south champion Norwell (11-10-1) and win yesterday’s state semifinal game 11-9 in front of several hundred fans at Babson College.
“I’m in awe. I’m so incredibly proud of these girls and what they’ve done this year, I’m at a loss for words. It’s incredible,” said Newburyport coach Catherine Batchelder. “They just refuse to quit and they refuse to lose a game. It’s awesome to see and it’s awesome to be a part of. They inspire me every day.”
Newburyport came out slow at the start of the first half and wound up in a 2-0 hole after just three minutes of play. Norwell’s midfield did an excellent job winning draws and maintaining possession, and throughout the first half most of Newburyport’s offense came on quick-strike breakaways.
Midway through the first half, Norwell extended its lead to 6-3, but after that point Newburyport began to settle down and keep Norwell’s talented attackers away from the front of the net.
As time began to tick down, a series of mishaps by the timekeeper resulted in a brief controversy, particularly after seven extra seconds ran off the clock after a Newburyport shot rolled out of bounds with 12 seconds to play.
The referees wound up putting four seconds back on the clock to give the Clippers nine seconds to make something happen, and senior Ali Peffer capitalized, scoring with one second left in the half to cut the deficit to 6-4.
After that, it was all Newburyport.
“I knew when it was close at halftime that we had a chance,” Batchelder said. “We’ve been a second half team all year and the girls just, again, they refused to let this season end. They want to let this season go on, and so do I.”
Newburyport outscored Norwell 7-3 in the second half, starting with a goal by sophomore Olivia Kearney a minute into the half to cut the deficit to one.
Norwell junior Catherine Connerty and Newburyport senior Julia Kipp traded goals over the next few minutes, and then with 18:14 to play, Kipp stripped a Norwell midfielder of the ball and had nothing but daylight between her and the net, finishing the fast break to tie the game at 7-7.
Norwell retook the lead about five minutes later after junior Caroline Walsh scored her fourth goal of the game to make it 8-7, but Kearney struck again with her second goal with 11:19 left to play, and after that the Clippers never looked back.
In the following minutes, Peffer and senior Lilly Donovan each scored to give Newburyport its first lead of the game, and then Izzy Sarra made a point-blank save to keep Norwell from getting any closer. Finally, Kipp scored her fifth goal of the game with seven minutes left to give her team a three-goal cushion, sending both the bench and the sizable contingent of Newburyport fans into a frenzy.
For most of the rest of the game, Newburyport dominated the possession and basically tried to let the clock run out. Norwell was finally able to regain possession with about three minutes to play, and Walsh scored her fifth goal to make it 11-9, but that was as close as Norwell would get.
After starting the year 0-3, the Clippers are now just one win away from winning it all. Newburyport will play in the state championship game on Saturday at Boston University against the winner of today’s semifinal between east champion Wayland and central champion Bromfield.
Newburyport 11, Norwell 9
Julia Kipp: 5 goals
Ali Peffer: 3 goals
Olivia Kearney: 2 goals
Lilly Donovan: 1 goal
Izzy Sarra: 11 saves