By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Down a goal with six seconds left, Newburyport midfielder JJ Bajko had one last chance to tie the game and keep the Clippers’ season alive.
But he was never able to get a shot off as Hamilton-Wenham defenseman Jimmy Littlefield ripped the stick out of his hands, securing the 7-6 win for his team.
“It was a clean play,” said Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano. “They put one of their longstick defenders on him and he was able to poke check when JJ made a move to go to the net.”
The final play came after Hamilton-Wenham (14-5) took a penalty, giving Newburyport (17-2) a golden opportunity to complete a late game comeback on the man advantage.
But it wasn’t meant to be, and as a result, the Clippers boys lacrosse team saw their season end in disappointment. The Generals will now move on to face south champion Cohasset in the state semifinals on Wednesday at Woburn High School.
Coming into the game, each team expected a tight, low-scoring affair akin to their last meeting on May 10, which Newburyport won 11-10 in double overtime.
Both teams also came into the game without two of their top scorers, as Newburyport was missing junior attacker and leading scorer Matt Kelleher, who went down in Wednesday’s North Semifinal with a knee injury.
Hamilton-Wenham was playing without star sophomore and University of North Carolina commit Cam Macri, who suffered a season-ending thumb injury in early May.
“I think we would have approached the game differently [had Kelleher been available],” Gaudiano said. “You can’t take 80 goals off the field without having to change anything, so obviously that was something that went against us.”
Without Kelleher, Newburyport needed its other stars to step up, and none did so more than senior defenseman Drew Bourdeau.
Early in the game, Bourdeau and the Newburyport defense effectively shut down the Hamilton-Wenham offense, and for the entire first half the only General who was able to do anything was senior co-captain Matt Curran, who scored all four of the Generals’ first-half goals.
Newburyport was able to get four goals of its own to go into halftime tied 4-4, but in the second half the offense began to struggle, giving Hamilton-Wenham a chance to pull ahead.
The Generals took a 5-4 lead after sophomore attacker Griffin Webber scored off a pass from senior defender Alex Rogers early in the second half, and shortly afterward Curran scored his fifth goal of the game, and then senior midfielder Brian Shaw scored to push Hamilton-Wenham’s lead to three.
With time starting to run out, Newburyport made one last push to tie the game.
Attacker Mike Shay scored his second goal of the game immediately after Shaw’s goal to cut the deficit to two, and then Matthew Cote scored right to make it a 7-6 game with nine minutes to play.
Newburyport had a number of opportunities to tie the game after that, going on the man advantage three times due to Hamilton-Wenham penalties, but the Generals were able to clamp down and keep the Clippers from gaining the equalizer, capped off by Littlefield’s last stop with time about to expire.
Though the season didn’t end the way they would have preferred, Newburyport will still be able to look back on this season as the best in program history.
Prior to this year, no Newburyport boys lacrosse team had ever reached the North Finals, and Gaudiano said he believes the foundation is now in place to build on this success going forward.
“It was our best season so far,” Gaudiano said. “I think the seniors did a great job as far as their leadership goes, and as far as the roles a lot of these seniors played.
“I can’t say enough about the senior class and hopefully the legacy is our younger guys will see the importance of a good senior class.”
Division III North Finals
Hamilton-Wenham - 7
Newburyport - 6