By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport boys and girls lacrosse teams will face their toughest tests of the season this afternoon as the two programs host their respective regional semifinal matchups in a double header at World War Memorial Stadium.
First, the top-seeded Newburyport boys team (16-1) will take on No. 4 Pentucket (13-5) in the Division III North semis at 4 p.m. After that, the No. 2 Newburyport girls team (12-4) will face No. 6 Manchester Essex (11-7) in the Division II North semis under the lights at 7 p.m.
Both games will be rematches of two of the closest games the Clippers have played this season. When the boys team faced Pentucket on April 25, the Clippers and Sachems battled to a 5-5 tie at halftime before Newburyport pulled away in the second half to win 8-6.
That game was the closest Newburyport came to losing since dropping its only game of the season to Masconomet on April 16 before the Clippers were nearly upset by Austin Prep in last Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Pentucket, on the other hand, has slipped up a few times since that game but has remained one of the top defensive teams in the region. The Sachems have given up double-digit goals only three times in 18 games, and in their quarterfinal matchup against No. 5 North Reading, the Sachems overcome heavy rain to beat the Hornets 8-7 on a late goal by Brendan Sullivan.
As for the girls, Manchester Essex was one of just four teams to beat Newburyport this season. The Hornets knocked off the Clippers 13-9 on April 10, and at the time the loss dropped Newburyport to 0-3 on the season and put the Clippers in a hole no team wants to find itself in early in the year.
Since that loss, Newburyport has looked like a completely different team. The Clippers have now won 12 of their last 13 games since the Manchester Essex loss and come into tonight’s matchup riding a 10-game winning streak.
The Hornets, however, have continued to play well throughout much of the season. Manchester Essex finished the regular season with a 9-7 overall record and placed second in the Cape Ann League Baker Division behind Ipswich.
Most of the Hornets’ losses have come against the top teams in the CAL and against tough non-conference opponents, and they have now won four straight games, including their first two in the state tournament.
In their first round matchup, the Hornets blew out No. 11 St. Mary’s (Lynn) 17-5 before fighting off a tough challenge from No. 3 Austin Prep to win 12-11 in the quarterfinals.
The winner of this afternoon’s boys game will move on to face (Hamilton-Wenham/Swampscott) in the regional final on Saturday, while the winner of tonight’s girls game will face either No. 5 Marblehead (14-7) or No. 8 Bishop Fenwick (13-7) in the regional final at a date to be determined.
Division III North Boys Lacrosse Semifinals
No. 1 Newburyport vs. No. 4 Pentucket
Newburyport High School, 4 p.m.
Division II North Girls Lacrosse Semifinals
No. 2 Newburyport vs. No. 6 Manchester Essex
Newburyport High School, 7 p.m.