Northampton beats Minnechaug to reach field hockey final
WEST SPRINGFIELD — Despite having four fewer losses during the regular season, the Northampton field hockey team was seeded below Minnechaug for the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament.
But it only took the Blue Devils 48 seconds to establish themselves as the superior team in Thursday night’s semifinal.
Junior Emily Allcroft scored the first of her two goals in the first minute of play as Northampton breezed to a 3-0 victory at West Springfield High School.
“All season long we’ve usually scored in the first five minutes, and whenever we score first we take charge after that,” Hamp coach Mike Dean said. “Getting that confidence early played into our success all year.”
The Blue Devils utilized their team speed on the turf from the start of the game. After entering the circle in the first 40 seconds, Allcroft put in a rebound past Falcons goalie Katherine Patterson (five saves).
“We had a lot of energy and came ready to play and ready to win,” Allcroft said. “We practiced on turf the past week and we’d gotten used to the feel. That’s one of the reasons we played so well.”
No. 3 Northampton (16-1-3) will face top-seeded Longmeadow (17-0-2) in the sectional final at West Springfield Saturday at 11 a.m. The Lancers defeated Mahar Regional 5-1 in the other semifinal. The Blue Devils are in the finals for the first time since 1998. Hamp won the title in 1996 and 1997.
“It should be a strongly contested game Saturday, and both teams definitely deserve to be there,” Dean said.
Hamp turned up the pressure after the initial goal, taking three penalty corners in the span of a minute about five minutes into the contest. The Blue Devils had 10 corners in the game, eight in the first half.
“We’re a really good team to play on turf, our transitions are fast and smooth,” senior Adrienne Pascucci said. “We were able to use our speed and used it to our advantage. Our plan was to get as many shots on goal as possible and hope to put one in early.”
Pascucci played a very active game and was rewarded with just over five minutes left in the half. Normally positioned on the right side, she rushed up the left wing, cut to the middle and whacked one home to make it 2-0.
“All our forwards are very versatile, we can play wherever we need them to,” Pascucci said. “We switch sides often, and I was able to take it up the left side and find room to score.”
The Falcons appeared to respond in the next minute, but had a goal waved off because the ball went off a player’s foot.
Northampton added the clincher early in the second half. Pascucci led a three-on-two break from the left side. As the play continued to develop, Emily Biggs (assist) delivered a perfect feed across the crease to Allcroft, who put home her second of the night.
After the lead expanded to 3-0, No. 2 Minnechaug (10-6-3) logged much of the possession over the final 25 minutes, but couldn’t get one by goalie Mary Greco. The Hamp defensive effort started in the midfield, as the Falcons rarely moved into scoring position and earned only three corners.
“We work on support defense all the time,” Dean said. “I tell them that just because the ball isn’t in your general area, to go help out. That puts us in a stronger position when we do get the ball back. The girls caught on quickly to my style, and that’s one of my key points.”
Greco only needed to make three saves, but had one key stop in the first half to keep the score at 1-0.
After dominating a Minnechaug team they didn’t face during the regular season, the Blue Devils will seek a similar result against another unfamiliar opponent in Longmeadow.
“They’re definitely a great team, and they’ll put up a great fight,” Allcroft said. “But if we play our best, we’ll have a chance to emerge with a win. We’re playing with a ton of confidence right now.”
Added Pascucci, “It should be a great game, I just home we show up like we did (Thursday) and give it our best.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at email@example.com.