Division 3 girls soccer: South Hadley cracks Monson in second half, advances to third straight final

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2019 11:12:53 PM

HOLYOKE — South Hadley rang the crossbar twice in the first half of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Girls Soccer Tournament semifinals.

The top-seeded Tigers created chances against No. 5 Monson but couldn’t put a decisive touch on the ball.

“The whole first half, we had so many opportunities, and it did get a little frustrating at times, but I knew we’d be able to regroup at half,” South Hadley senior Reese Carey said.

South Hadley coach Rich Marjanski called on the seniors to affect the game more. They played in the state final last year and had won the previous two sectional championships, so they understood what it would take.

“You know the pressure it takes to win a Western Mass. championship,” he said. “I challenged the seniors at halftime to step up. There’s no tomorrow.”

South Hadley responded. The Tigers put a shot on goal less than a minute into the second half after only forcing two Monson saves in the first. Eight minutes later, Maddie Doolittle slid a pass across the penalty box to Carey. She calmly fired it low and into the left corner as Monson keeper Isabel Bailey charged off her line to trip Carey up.

“I was able to bring it to my feet and pass it into the goal,” Carey said. “I knew we’d have a hard time getting our chances. I was glad we were able to get it done and into the goal.”

The goal in the 49th minute proved decisive, as South Hadley beat Monson, 1-0, to advance to the sectional final for the third straight year. The two-time defending champion Tigers (19-0-1) will face No. 3 Mahar (18-1-2) in the championship game, 11 a.m. Saturday at Springfield Central. Mahar defeated Hampshire Regional in double overtime Tuesday.

South Hadley and Monson (14-5-2) faced each other twice during the regular season in the Central League. The Tigers won both games by a combined 10-1 score. Wednesday’s third edition, a rematch of last year’s final, didn’t follow the same script.

“We always say you never know what to expect, it’s playoffs,” Carey said. “We just have to work hard and work together and not take anything for granted.”

South Hadley lived in Monson’s end for most of the first half, earning five corners, but the Tigers struggled to create opportunities against the Mustangs’ back line. Monson played with an extra player in the back to muck up the Tigers’ attack. It was South Hadley’s lowest scoring output of the season. Their previous low was a 2-2 tie against Granby in late October.

“It made it a little tougher back there,” Marjanski said. “They clogged the middle. We missed a lot of chances early, just didn’t put the ball in the back of the net. We didn’t finish.”

Once the Mustangs regained possession, Monson used long through balls to attack South Hadley’s back line and the space behind it. But the Tigers’ back four tracked well enough to push the ball off attackers’ feet outside away from danger, limiting the work South Hadley keeper Bridget Sears needed to do. She made three saves.

“When you get to the tournament, those are the scariest games,” Marjanski said. “With so many upsets in this tournament, if you leave a team in the game like Monson it only takes one breakaway, one missed play and next thing you know you gave ’em life and it’s 1-0.”

The Tigers’ defense was up to the task and recorded its first shutout since an Oct. 17 win over Monson. It was South Hadley’s 10th clean sheet of the year.

“Our defense, at the beginning of the year wasn’t that great. They’ve gotten better and better,” Marjanski said. “The best part about the whole thing is, I think we have one of the best offenses in Western Mass. and they get to go against the offense every day in practice, so they get better going against all the offensive people that we got.”

South Hadley pushed for a second insurance goal for the rest of the second half but couldn’t crack Monson’s defense again. Bailey stopped 11 shots. But one goal was all the Tigers needed for the chance to defend their title.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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