The third time was the charm for the Norton Under-14 girls’ soccer Division 1 travel team.
After falling one victory shy of its goal of making the state tournament the last two years, Norton took that next step with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Freetown-Lakeville in the semifinals of the South Coast Soccer League Division 1 playoffs on Monday night at .
With the victory, the top-seeded locals improved to 8-0-1 on the season. Freetown-Lakeville, the fourth seed in the divisional playoffs, completed its year at 4-4-1.
The win on Monday night also secured the overall Division 1 championship for Norton.
This spring, the winners of both division semifinal-round games qualify for the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions, which will be held from June 24-26 in Lancaster. The other state tournament spot from the division went to third-seeded Mariner, who knocked off Dartmouth, the second seed, 2-1 on Saturday in Dartmouth.
Behind three goals by forward Lauren MacGray, all three on headers, and a stifling defense, Norton punched its ticket to the state competition with a win on Monday.
“I couldn’t be happier for the girls to be able to win the division and go to states,” said Norton head coach Tim Dermody. “I’m really proud of the girls. I’m very happy that they were able to close the deal and make MTOC. The kids worked very hard and delivered. They earned their opportunity to play in the state tournament.”
A terrific corner kick from the right by midfielder Allison McPherson resulted in the opening goal of the night for Norton. She sent a nice ball to the front of the Freetown-Lakeville net, where MacGray was stationed and headed it into the net for a 1-0 lead.
The locals continued to hold that advantage for the rest of the first half and into the second. “We told the girls at halftime that we needed to get the next goal,” Dermody said. “We told them the next goal would be the golden goal. We felt we had the advantage in the game if we were ahead, but we felt they had the advantage if it was tied.”
Norton made it 2-0 when Gillian Dermody stole the ball in the left corner of the Norton offensive zone and sent an excellent crossing pass to the front of the Freetown-Lakeville net, where MacGray once again headed it past the opposing goalie for a 2-0 edge.
“We went to three forwards for this game,” said Dermody. “We wanted to be more aggressive with our attacking. We out-shot them by a wide margin, it was just a matter of finding the back of the net and we were able to do that three times. We wanted to score early and often if possible. That would put them on their heels. ”
Norton knew Freetown-Lakeville was going to be a tough foe and the visitors proved that a short time later, getting itself back in the game with a goal. A Freetown-Lakeville player fired a high, arcing shot from the left side that went over the head of Norton goalkeeper Kathryn Saba and into the net, cutting the locals’ lead in half at 2-1.
At this point, Freetown-Lakeville turned up the offensive pressure, but the Norton defense and Saba were able to weather the storm. “Freetown-Lakeville is a very good team and we knew this was going to be a tough game,” Dermody said. “But the kids did a great job. Our defense did a great job containing their forwards, anticipating balls and coming out of our own end with the ball. The defense did a really good job winning the 50-50s. I was also proud of the fact that we only gave up one corner kick in the game.”
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the match, Norton got an important insurance goal. Defensive back Kyla Prosper sent a long pass up the left sideline. Laura Johnson then sent a high kick to in front of the Freetown-Lakeville net, where MacGray put it home with a header for the third time on the night, giving the locals a 3-1 lead.
“That is something we work on a lot,” said Dermody, referring to his team’s proficiency heading the ball.
The 16-member Norton team consists of all eighth graders, except MacGray, who is a freshman at Norton High. Michelle Byrnes and John Erickson serve as assistant coaches.
Along with MacGray at forward, Marisa Amato, Dermody, Megan Geib, Johnson, Olivia McCarthy, Bridgit Murray and Lauren O’Connor all see action at both forward and midfield for Norton. McPherson is a midfielder, while Emily Weber sees time at midfield and defense. A strong defensive unit also consists of Holly Beaucage, Brittany Byrnes, Lauren Erickson and Prosper with standout Amy Pereira at sweeper and Saba in goal.
This spring, Norton has scored 27 goals in nine matches, while surrendering just nine for an average game score of 3-1, including two regular-season shutouts.
“It was a total team effort in the game,” Dermody said. “I’m happy for both the kids and parents that we were able to get this win. I also want to thank my assistant coaches for all the work they put in. The girls really played as a team. They all did their jobs on the field and played very well. We were able to wear them down as the game went on. These kids do a good job playing off of one another and communicating on the field.”