Lenox shuts out Gateway girls soccer in Division 3 final
WESTFIELD — Even though the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament final had seemingly been decided, Brooke Fairman displayed the pride and maximum effort that’s helped make the Gateway Regional girls soccer team so successful in recent years.
Trailing by two goals with about 18 minutes to play, the senior goalkeeper charged out to the top of the box and dove to avert a potential breakaway opportunity.
Fairman made 10 saves on Monday afternoon, but the Gators dropped a 2-0 decision to top-seeded Lenox at Westfield State University.
“That was a great play coming out there,” Gateway coach Steve Estelle said. “Brooke’s so good at cutting off plays and handling crosses. She also makes it look so easy on corners. You can’t say enough about Brooke, she’s simply an outstanding keeper.”
No. 6 Gateway saw its season end at 13-5-2. The game marked the Gators’ third final appearance in the last four years. They won the title in both 2009 and 2010.
“I wish I could have done more to stop the goals, but overall I felt I played pretty well,” Fairman said. “Our team really put things together to reach this game, especially since we had to beat three teams in the tournament to get here.”
The loss snapped a seven-game unbeaten streak since Gateway sat at 7-4-1 with four regular-season games left.
“We had five road games in a row and an injury or two to deal with in the middle of the year, but I think that bit of adversity was good for us,” Estelle said. “We put a really nice stretch together to get to this point.”
Led by midfielders Josie Marshall and Hayden Zinchuk, the Millionaires (14-4-2) earned their second-straight sectional title. They’ll play central Mass. champion Sutton (17-3-1) in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Westfield State.
Lenox is “really good in the middle, very skilled,” forward Jamie Pease said. “We worked hard, we just couldn’t get much through that middle part of the field. We like to get it to the outside and cross to the middle, but they took that away.”
Marshall scored what proved to be the game winner nearly 15 minutes into the first half. Allie Connell lofted a corner kick to the far post, where Marshall booted it just inside the post.
Lenox freshman forward Allesandra Arace, who scored her team’s only goal in a 1-0 semifinal victory over Granby, added the insurance tally with 28:37 left in regulation.
On a slowly developing play, Zinchuk moved the ball to Marshall, who found Arace with a step on the defense. Fairman stepped out to challenge, but Arace slipped home a dribbler to the far side.
“The first goal went over my head on the corner, and it was a nice shot,” Fairman said. “On the second goal, there was some miscommunication among all of us. So giving that second one up was tough.”
Estelle said, “They were relentless on that second goal, just kept coming, one pass after another. That was a team goal for them. They had the numbers on us and we just couldn’t get back in time.”
The speedy Arace had two other strong scoring chances. One ended on a point-blank save by Fairman, the other with a block by defender Alyssa Moreau.
Pease had both shots on goal in the contest for the Gators. The first came with under 13 minutes remaining until halftime. Pease put a strong left foot on the shot, but goalie Kathy Prescott (two saves) reached up to snag it.
“If Jamie’s shot goes in, we’re looking at 1-1, and who knows what would have happened after that,” Estelle said. “That was a really nice play for us, and we had a good stretch there around that time.”
After Lenox controlled the first 25 minutes, earning five corners, Gateway responded late in the half with its most prolonged period of offensive pressure. However, they spent very little time with possession inside the 18.
It was the final high school game for Fairman and Pease, the team’s co-captains.
“I’m really happy to have gone through my career with this team and especially with Jamie, who’s a great player and captain,” Fairman said. “The two of us have played together since we were little.”
Over their careers, they played in four sectional semifinals, made three western Mass. title games and won the two championships.
“I’ll have a lot to remember playing for this program,” Pease said. “We enjoyed a lot of success getting to three finals, and every year we came together and played our best. That’s what the Gateway Gators are about, we’re one team. I’m very proud to have played with these girls in my last season.”
Nine of Estelle’s 11 starters, as well as the entire bench, are set to return in 2013.
“You learn by experience, and now we know we have to be quicker and stronger on the ball,” Estelle said. “It’s not like (Lenox) dominated us, but they got the ball to the right places and the right people to generate offense.”
Said Fairman, “We have a solid young team, and they’ll have more seniors next season, so hopefully the success will carry on and maybe they’ll be able to win the title again.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at email@example.com.