Generals Send Cougars Home
John Stark's Gianna Pezzulo gets met by the defense of Kearsarge in Kate Scheuch (center #4) and Geneva Heffernan (#17) during the second half at SNHU. Monday, June 9, 2014
GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
The John Stark lacrosse team celebrates as Kearsarge's Lily Huntoon walks away after the Generals' 9-7 semifinal victory at SNHU. Monday, June 9, 2014
GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff
Kearsarge's Geneva Heffernan chases after John Stark's Samantha Valcourt during the second half of the playoff action Monday June 9, 2014.
GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff
Manchester — The word John Stark girls lacrosse coach John Warner used was “poise.” Poise was what he wanted to see from his players to start last night’s NHIAA Division III semifinal, and poise was what he reminded his players about during a timeout when a trip to the championship looked to be slipping away.
“We had a three-goal lead, and we’re making fouls here, and then we were rushing the ball there,” Warner said. “The (point) was, ‘Calm down. Just relax.’ ”
The Generals got the message — no one getting it louder or clearer than Casey Poirier and goalie Clarissa Foote. Poirier scored the game’s next two goals, Foote stymied the Cougars on shot after shot and the second-seeded Generals earned the school’s first trip to the D-III final with a 9-7 victory over No. 3 Kearsarge at Southern New Hampshire University.
John Stark will go against No. 1 Derryfield Thursday at 7 p.m.
“It’s a little surreal, actually,” Warner said. “At the start of the year, we felt we had a chance to get to the final four, maybe. … I probably couldn’t say I thought we were going to make the state finals.”
The game was the third between the Generals (14-2) and Cougars (12-3), and just as a season split would suggest — Stark won the season opener, 7-6, and Kearsarge took a rematch, 15-8 — the rubber match was close. Three goals to open the second half seemed to have Stark pulling away with a 7-3 lead, but Libby Brooks scored a player down, Anna Stowell scored on a free position and Geneva Heffernan added another free-position goal with 14:08 to play, making it 7-6 and prompting Warner to call a timeout to rally his players.
“The (timeout) was … don’t get all freaky, because that’s what they were doing,” Warner said. “They were forcing plays in, getting charges, throwing shots that weren’t any good.”
That changed after the break — thanks to a yellow card issued against Kearsarge less than a minute later that put the Cougars down a player. This time the team with the advantage scored as Poirier got a pass from Danielle McCarron and scored on the run with 12:55 to play. The Generals had another scoring opportunity on a free position with 8:23 to go; Foote again had the chance, and she again found the net to make the lead 9-6 and put her team back in command.
Kearsarge was down but far from out, and when Stowell scored again to make it 9-7 with 5:02 to play, coach Scott Slogic called a timeout to set up his team’s final push, one that was boosted when the Generals were penalized at 2:48.
The Cougars came close. Haley Brook (assist) and Eleanor Angus (one goal) just missed the net during the advantage, and on one of the team’s final prime chances, Foote made a big save — her 17th and final of the game — on a free position from Heffernan to end the threat.
“When they went down (a player), I actually thought, ‘OK, we have it,’ ” Slogic said. “What happened was we did not play our pass and attack against this zone as we typically do. … Give credit to Coach Warner and John Stark, they responded appropriately.”
Foote was a big part of the Generals’ response, as the senior made nine saves in the second half – most on free positions and other great Kearsarge looks – to hold off the Cougars rally and help her team hang on.
“Our arch (nemesis), Kearsarge, we always want to win against them,” Foote said. “I feel like that put me in the mood to go out there, leave it on the field and do my best.”
The timeout in the second half was Stark’s second of the game, the first coming with 13:21 left in the first half after Brooks (three goals) put Kearsarge up 2-0.
“The first time was just to tell them to settle down,” Warner said. “They were a little amped. … The first time was, ‘All right, we got past this little bit. Let’s get our act together a little bit.’ ”
Stark responded immediately, as Gianna Pezzulo scored, Poirier added consecutive goals and Elizabeth Brandt scored on a free position for a 4-2 lead. Brooks scored for Kearsarge with 58 seconds left to cut the gap to 4-3 but the Generals began the second half on a tear, as Danielle Galli, Poirier and Samantha Valcourt scored on the first three shots on goal of the half for a 7-3 advantage with 23:38 left.
“We started the second half just, I don’t know why, flat,” Slogic said. “I called a timeout and I needed to remind the girls, ‘The game started.’ ”
The key behind the success for the Generals was finding their up-tempo rhythm, one that was missing when they lost to Kearsarge in May.
“We knew that we needed to move the ball quickly down the field on the transition,” Poirier said. “We had to pass the ball quickly.”
They did, allowing them to build a lead in the second half that they never relinquished. They did come close to letting it get away, not that it matters with the Generals headed to a game that few on the team envisioned reaching when the season began.
“Our goal was to get to the final four, and now we’re exceeding that goal,” Poirier said. “It’s crazy.”