By Mac Cerullo
---- — BOSTON — It was an ending nobody could have ever seen coming.
It was a day nobody could have imagined three springs ago, when this year’s seniors were unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the state tournament as freshmen by archrival Triton.
It was a scene nobody could have pictured in the years that followed, when the team’s tournament runs ended before they even started, and certainly not back in early April when the Clippers lost to Manchester Essex and dropped to 0-3 on the season.
And it was a dream that felt like pure fantasy after the Clippers were cut down by Masconomet shortly afterward and faced with the unsettling possibility that their season could soon be lost.
But against all odds, that dream came true on Saturday, when the Newburyport girls lacrosse team completed their improbable run to the top and raised the Division II State Championship trophy over their heads.
Newburyport beat Bromfield 7-6 in Saturday’s state championship game, shutting the door on the vaunted Trojan offense with a second-half defensive effort that will go down as the stuff of legend.
Coming into the game, Bromfield sophomore Sophia Turchetta led her team with 174 points, including seven goals in her team’s 9-8 semifinal victory over Wayland punctuated by a game-winner with 30 seconds on the clock.
Newburyport head coach Catherine Batchelder said she and her players were well aware of the threat posed by the talented Trojan sophomore, so their game plan would be simple. Stop Turchetta at all costs and force somebody else on Bromfield to step up and beat them.
In the first half, despite relentless double teams and pressure from the Clipper defense, Turchetta was still able to go off for five goals, almost singlehandedly keeping pace with Newburyport’s offense, which had little difficulty finding openings in the Bromfield defense. The two teams wound up trading blows throughout the first half before Newburyport gained a 7-6 lead following a goal by senior midfielder Ali Peffer with 20 seconds to go.
“We tried to shut her down in the first half, but it wasn’t really working,” Batchelder said. “We didn’t really change anything, I just talked to the girls about having to step up and work harder. This was the last 25 minutes of the season, so it’s now or never.”
Newburyport’s defenders took the message to heart, and what followed was one of the most dominant defensive performances you will ever see in high school lacrosse.
Despite maintaining possession for close to two-thirds of the second half, Bromfield never got an open look at the net. The few shots that did make it through were turned aside by freshman goalkeeper Izzy Sarra, and every time Turchetta touched the ball, three Clippers immediately swarmed around her before she even had a chance to move.
The Clippers finally regained possession of the ball with about six minutes left, and with 5:30 on the clock, Batchelder called timeout to go over her team’s strategy for the final minutes of the game.
“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.”
The Clippers executed the stall to perfection, passing the ball around the perimeter of Bromfield’s offensive zone as the clock slowly ticked down to zero. The Trojans never touched the ball again, and when the final horn sounded, the players poured onto the field, barely able to process what they’d just achieved.
“It’s kind of unreal. We never expected to make it this far,” said senior Julia Kipp, who scored 2 goals and recorded 2 assists on the day. “The fact that we all pulled together and we did it was really so awesome.”
Mary Pettigrew, a senior defenseman who spent the whole morning chasing Turchetta around the field with Peffer, Lilly Donovan, Kelly Conway, Shannon Tinkham and the rest of her teammates on defense, said she couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“It was amazing. I didn’t think that we could do it,” she said. “Me, Ali, Lilly, Kelly and the rest of the defense, we all worked together in the second half, we picked ourselves up, regrouped and came back out.”
And Peffer, who scored what turned out to be the championship-winning goal, was speechless.
“I cried,” Peffer said. “I couldn’t believe we just did it. We were the underdogs I felt like throughout this whole season and we came out on top and it’s just amazing. I never thought it would happen in a million years.”
In the end, Newburyport claimed its first state championship in program history by coming together as a unit and playing its best lacrosse when the stakes were highest. After starting the year 2-4, the Clippers reeled off 14 straight wins to claim the title, including three in the state tournament where Newburyport came from behind to win in the second half.
Then, with the championship on the line, there would be no need for one last comeback. The Clippers grabbed onto the lead and ran with it, holding on tight until their season-long journey to the top was finally over.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Tinkham said. “I couldn’t think of a better way for it to end.”
Newburyport - 7Bromfield - 6
Julia Kipp: 2 goals, 2 assists
Kelly Conway: 1 goal, 1 assist
Lilly Donovan: 2 goals
Ali Peffer: 2 goals
Sophia Turchetta: 5 goals
Jackie Planchet: 1 goal