Pinkerton Astros Girls Soccer '07

Mon, Nov 05, 2007 04:30 PM @ Exeter
Team 1st 2nd OT Final
Playoff Game
Pinkerton 0 1 0 1
Exeter 1 0 1 2
Pinkerton senior Meghan Hickey holds her head as she walks off the field Monday evening after Pinkerton lost to Exeter in the state finals at Stellos Stadium in Nashua. » Jarrod Thompson, Staff PhotographerMore photos

Midnight strikes for Cinderella Astros

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Tuesday, November, 06 By Ryan Lambert
Staff writer

Eighth-seeded Pinkerton excelled on the counterattack for most of its Class L state championship game against defending champions Exeter. Unfortunately, there was no chance to answer the game-winner.

Rachel Gratton struck in the fifth minute of overtime for third-seeded Exeter, lifting the Blue Hawks to their second straight state title, 2-1.

"I think the girls played well today," said Pinkerton coach Ken Najem. "We gave them all they could handle. We were one goal away, and it could have gone either way in the second half or overtime. Exeter's a great team. We were just one goal away."

The Blue Hawks opened the scoring in the 24th minute, with freshman midfielder Anna Grant unleashing a high shot from 30 yards out that caught Pinkerton goalie Katherine Harris, another freshman, ever-so-slightly off her line and staked Exeter to a lead it would quickly relinquish.

Four minutes later, Stephanie Sayward corralled a ball in the Exeter box, but she was tripped from behind, drawing a penalty kick. Sophomore Kate Ward volunteered to take it, and her teammates deferred.

"They all (take penalty kicks)," said Najem. "We practice them all the time, and on any given day someone will get three out of five or four out of five and Stephanie usually takes them, Bree takes them. Kate Ward just stepped up. I didn't call that shot. The girls have to believe. I can name a girl, but they have to believe they can make it. If the girl volunteers, then it's a plus for them."

Ward fired a mid-height rocket that found the back of the net and tied the game, but she was not exactly brimming with confidence.

"It was all because Steph got tripped up, so credit to her," Ward said. "I just smiled and hoped for the best. I kicked it as hard as I could and it went in."

The teams played a back and forth game for the next 30 minutes before Bree Robinson missed a wide-open net in the 56th minute. While the miss could have been a dagger to Pinkerton's heart, it instead awakened the offensive prowess that had been dormant for much of the game.

Over the next 24 minutes, Pinkerton enjoyed the lion's share of high-quality scoring advantages, earning free kicks and corner kicks in droves. While the Astros never converted, they were menacing nonetheless.

"This is a young team and they play with all their heart," said Najem. "We just keep plugging away. They're in good condition. We worked hard all year on our skills and our endurance and that's what got us (into overtime) today." Exeter regrouped and came out firing on all cylinders in overtime. Gratton's goal came in the 85th minute as she received a ball in the box, settled, turned and fired, beating Harris to ice the championship.

Still, there's nothing to be ashamed of for the Astros, who ripped through the tournament with reckless abandon for a young team that finished the regular season barely over .500. Knocking off undefeated Manchester Central (16-0-1) on the road and advancing to the finals was consolation enough for Ward and the Astros.

"We were so happy that we made it so far," said Ward. "No one expected us to get here because we started in eighth place. We were ready to win, but Exeter just beat us (in the end)."

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