By Mac Cerullo
---- — BOSTON – For the first time in program history, the Newburyport girls lacrosse team has reached the top of the mountain, beating Bromfield 7-6 to win the Division II state championship.
After a back and forth first half, Newburyport’s defense completely shut down the vaunted Bromfield offense in the second half, and once the Clippers gained possession with just under six minutes to play, they executed a textbook stall and prevented the Trojans from ever touching the ball again.
Having started the season 0-3, Newburyport head coach Catherine Batchelder was speechless once the final horn sounded and the Clippers players began to celebrate on the field.
“It’s so improbable and it’s so incredibly mind boggling that we just won the state championship,” Batchelder said. “Someone should have bet on us in Vegas they would have made a lot of money.”
Coming into the game, the big question was whether or not Newburyport (16-4) could stop the Bromfield (21-2) offense. Bromfield’s two top players, sophomore Sophia Turchetta and senior Jackie Planchet, combined to score more than 300 points this season, and in last week’s semifinal against Wayland, Turchetta scored seven goals all by herself to carry the Trojans to the finals.
In the game’s opening minutes, it appeared as if Turchetta would run roughshod over the Newburyport defense too. Turchetta scored the first goal of the game roughly two minutes in to give Bromfield an early lead, and by halftime she had already extended her total to five.
Despite the trouble’s posed by Turchetta, Newburyport’s offense was more than up for the task of dealing with Bromfield’s defense. Senior Kelly Conway scored on a nice pass from senior Julia Kipp to tie the game at 1-1 about two minutes after Turchetta’s first goal, and for the rest of the half the two teams traded goals, with the only extended run coming from Newburyport, when the Clippers scored two straight goals to go from being down 2-1 to up 3-2 around 10 minutes into the game.
With Newburyport holding a 6-5 lead with a minute to play, Planchet scored her first goal of the game to tie the score at six, but in a play reminiscent of her buzzer beating goal against Norwell, senior Ali Peffer beat Bromfield goalie Julia Hoggins with 20 seconds left in the half to put the Clippers up 7-6.
Though nobody knew it at the time, that would turn out to be the last goal either team scored for the rest of the game.
The early stages of the second half were defined by a series of big saves made by Hoggins and Newburyport goalie Izzy Sarra. Within the first few minutes, Hoggins made two point blank saves on Newburyport senior Lilly Donovan and Kipp in quick sucession, keeping the Clippers from getting any further ahead.
Then on the following Bromfield counterattack, Sarra preserved her team’s slim lead with a huge point blank save of her own on Turchetta, knocking the shot to the left side of the cage and out of danger.
Each goalie would make several more big saves before the game was over, but for most of the second half, the story was the dominance of the Newburyport defense. From the 18-minute mark until the six minute mark, Bromfield maintained possession and continually circled the Newburyport net looking for an opening. They never found one.
Meanwhile, every time Turchetta touched the ball, she was greeted with three Newburyport defenders. Finally, after seemingly an eternity, Newburyport regained possession, and with 5:30 left on the clock, Batchelder called a time out to lay out her team’s strategy for the final minutes.
“With no shot clock in lacrosse, the stall is an important part of the game and we practice it a lot, and with all the close games we’ve been having through the tournament we’ve had a chance to practice our stalls in pressure situations,” Batchelder said. “So I just told them five minutes left, this better be the best stall you’ve done all year, and they executed really well.”
Bromfield never touched the ball again, and when the final horn sounded, the players poured onto the field in celebration, almost unable to process that they’d actually done it.
“I can’t believe it,” said senior defender Mary Pettigrew. “It doesn’t even feel like a state championship game honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Newburyport wound up finishing the game with 2 goals and 2 assists from Kipp, senior Kelly Conway had 1 goal and 1 assist, senior Lilly Donovan had 2 goals, and Ali Peffer had 2 goals, including her goal late in the first half that ultimately proved to be the game winner.
“I think I’ve worked my whole entire lacrosse career for that, I never thought that would ever happen,” Peffer said. “I thank my entire team for that, and I didn’t even know that was the winning goal. I’m speechless.”
For full coverage of Newburyport’s state championship victory, check out Monday’s edition of The Daily News of Newburyport.