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Merrimack Valley Solves Raiders Again

  • Kyra Taylor, left, and Emily Perryman, second from left, of Lebanon react as Perryman's goal against Merrimack Valley is nullified by referees during their Division II field hockey semifinal at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. The goal was scored on a corner but referees contended that the pass had not left the circle before the shot was made. Merrimack Valley held off the Raiders for the rest of the game for a 1 - 0 win. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Kyra Taylor, left, and Emily Perryman, second from left, of Lebanon react as Perryman's goal against Merrimack Valley is nullified by referees during their Division II field hockey semifinal at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. The goal was scored on a corner but referees contended that the pass had not left the circle before the shot was made. Merrimack Valley held off the Raiders for the rest of the game for a 1 - 0 win.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Emily Perryman, left, of Lebanon shoots on a pass from Kendra MacDonald in the corner as teammate Elle Brine, right, stands ready during their Division II field hockey semifinal against Merrimack Valley at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. Perryman scored on the shot, but the goal was nullified by referees. Merrimack Valley won 1 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Emily Perryman, left, of Lebanon shoots on a pass from Kendra MacDonald in the corner as teammate Elle Brine, right, stands ready during their Division II field hockey semifinal against Merrimack Valley at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. Perryman scored on the shot, but the goal was nullified by referees. Merrimack Valley won 1 - 0.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kyra Taylor, left, and Emily Perryman, second from left, of Lebanon react as Perryman's goal against Merrimack Valley is nullified by referees during their Division II field hockey semifinal at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. The goal was scored on a corner but referees contended that the pass had not left the circle before the shot was made. Merrimack Valley held off the Raiders for the rest of the game for a 1 - 0 win. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Emily Perryman, left, of Lebanon shoots on a pass from Kendra MacDonald in the corner as teammate Elle Brine, right, stands ready during their Division II field hockey semifinal against Merrimack Valley at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, October 31, 2013. Perryman scored on the shot, but the goal was nullified by referees. Merrimack Valley won 1 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Exeter, n.h. — In a steady rain, the Merrimack Valley High field hockey team remained a steady pain for Lebanon in Thursday night’s NHIAA Division II semifinal.

Olivia Thurber’s 11th-minute goal stood as the game’s lone score as No. 6 Merrimack Valley edged the second-ranked Raiders, 1-0, at Exeter High School’s Bill Ball Stadium.

The Pride (12-4-1) knocked off a top-three seed for the second straight round and advanced to Sunday’s championship game at Bedford High against top-ranked Windham, a 3-2 winner over No. 5 St. Thomas in Thursday’s late semi. It’ll be Merrimack Valley’s second trip to the final in three seasons and third in six years under 19th-year coach Kim Kenney.

The Raiders, last year’s D-II champ, finishes 12-2-2, with both losses and one tie coming against the Pride. MV won 2-1 in Penacook on Sept. 17 before playing the Raiders to a scoreless draw in Lebanon in the regular season finale.

“They play rough, and we don’t play a very physical game because we feel it’s not the right thing to do,” said 34th-year Lebanon coach Deb Beach, whose team was back in the semis despite losing 20-goal scorer Shauna Rankin-Byrne and others to graduation after last season.

The Raiders were outshot, 12-3, though they had twice as many penalty corners (8-4) and controlled play for portions of the second half.

Merrimack Valley was whistled for three quick fouls in the first two minutes of the second period, the last resulting in a corner.

Kendra MacDonald set up Emily Perryman over the middle, and Perryman sent a zinger past Pride keeper Maggie Carey for what appeared to be the junior midfielder’s 10th goal of the year.

After a lengthy conversation in the steady rain, officials disallowed the goal by citing that the ball failed to exit the circle before the shot, a requirement on a penalty corner. Beach disagreed that the ball never left, though she acknowledged she’ll have to see it again to be certain.

“That would have changed the course of the game, and I think it came out of the top (of the circle before the shot),” Beach said. “We’ll have to look at the photos people took and the video to be sure.”

Merrimack Valley’s goal came thanks to a brilliant effort from senior Lily Davis after the Pride stopped a Raider penalty-corner bid. Davis poked the ball forward and charged up the field on her own, outracing a Raider and passing in stride to Thurber, whose sweeping one-timer got past junior Lebanon keeper Emily Foster at 10:54.

“We know these games with Lebanon are always going to be tight, so the plan was to get a shot off every time we were in the circle,” said Kenney. “It didn’t happen every time, but they made a great play on the goal.”

Merrimack Valley controlled much of the first half, forcing Raider forwards to the right side. It’s more difficult to generate scoring chances from the right, Beach noted, because the sticks are facing away from the goal.

“They were dictating where we were playing,” Beach said. “We kept trying to go left and they kept making us go right. That happened too many times.”

Lebanon played with renewed vigor at the start of the second half, continuing to apply pressure after the disallowed goal and earning three corners in the first nine minutes. MV was all but forced to call its timeout with 21:49 left.

“We’ve had a hard time playing for 60 minutes in some games,” Kenney said. “We tend to have these little lapses and have to regroup.”

The Pride became the aggressor once more down the stretch, forcing a number of Foster saves as well as big plays by Lebanon defenders.

Merrimack Valley’s Isabel Hoyt got around the Lebanon goalie with 13:30 to play, only to be thwarted by the extended stick of sophomore defender Elle Brine near the goal line. Erin Frost got off a clean shot on the ensuing penalty corner, but Foster was there for the kick save.

The Raiders’ Gergana Alteva disrupted a bid by Jordan Presby with 3:10 to play, and Davis and Thurber both sent shots wide in the final minutes while seeking an insurance goal.

Despite the loss, Beach was proud of her players. She was pleased with the way they handled her absence when she missed eight games in the middle of the season while recovering from a back injury. The ailment also kept her from duty as a physical education teacher at Lebanon High.

Assistant coach Shay Brine and captains Perryman, Kathryn Willemen and Jennifer Laramie kept the team solid while she was gone, Beach said.

“Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s always hard on a team when a coach walks out in the middle of the season,” said Beach. “It’s a real credit to them, the way they handled it. They had a great year.”

Free Hits: Foster finished with four saves for Lebanon and Carey one for MV. ... Lebanon was shut out for the third time, but still outscored opponents 33-8 for the season. The Raiders hadn’t been shut out for 46 consecutive games over more than two full seasons before a scoreless tie against Plymouth on Sept. 24. ... Lebanon’s last strong chance Thursday came with 14:15 remaining, but Perryman’s high-velocity bid on a feed from MacDonald clanged off several Pride sticks and ricocheted away. ... Raider senior Brooke Whitaker tied Perryman for the team lead with nine goals thanks to her six goals in five games heading into Thursday. She had just three scores through Lebanon’s first 10 games. ... Lebanon graduates eight seniors.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.