Division 4 girls soccer: Ava Auclair nets two, Gateway clamps down on Hopkins in quarterfinals

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

HUNTINGTON — Not even Ava Auclair thought the ball went in the net.

The Gateway Regional sophomore passed the ball, she thought, across the face of goal looking for a teammate to score. It went right at Hopkins Academy keeper Gabby Palmisano, but she couldn’t bend down to scoop it fast enough, and the ball dribbled into the corner of the net in the 24th minute.

“I looked away,” Auclair said. “Then I looked up and saw it go in like ‘oh my god.’”

That opening goal gave the top-seeded Gators breathing room and allowed them to further emphasize their style and lock down a 2-0 win over No. 7 Hopkins in the Western Massachusetts Division 4 Tournament quarterfinals. Gateway will face No. 3 Lenox at 5 p.m. Thursday at Holyoke High.

“I think they beat us to the ball. They got to those 50-50 balls first, they settled and utilized it,” Hopkins coach Lyndsey Roberts said. “We were more reactive than proactive.”

Gateway (12-2-3) controlled possession from the start. The Gators attacked Hopkins’ penalty box but lacked the final ball to break the Golden Hawks’ defense.

“We strengthened our midfield with our formation, which means we’re going to have a weaker offense,” Gateway coach Steve Estelle said. “It took patience for us to score.”

Once they took the lead, the Gators were determined to keep it. They set a goal before the game to never have keeper Becca Herman touch the ball. She made two saves, but Gateway’s back line regularly snuffed out Hopkins’ attacks before the Golden Hawks could reach the final third of the field.

“We really held our own,” Gateway sophomore defender Juliana Dickinson said. “We’re focused on containing more than anything.”

That kept possession in Gateway’s offensive half and the pressure on Hopkins’ defense. In the 71st minute, Auclair struck again.

She received a pass in the center of the field and dribbled forward with a Hopkins defender on her back. Auclair then cut the ball out to the right to avoid a second defender before looping a shot above Palmisano (seven saves) for a 2-0 lead.

Palmisano left the pitch at halftime after an injury in the first half. Miranda Pitta replaced her, making seven saves, until Palmisano returned in the 57th minute.

“It does put an added pressure when the quarterback of your team is not doing well. Not only is she not 100 percent, even though she played through it, it sets a mental tone for the team,” Roberts said. “They’re worried about her; we’re a very close team.”

Seniors Juliette Cook, Pitta, Isabel Flynn, Margaret Michalak, Hannah Berard and Leah Picard played their final game for Hopkins.

“We will miss them,” Roberts said.

The Gators will play Lenox (11-5-3) for the second time in three years. Lenox prevailed in 2015 in penalty kicks.

“We know what to expect, and we know what our team’s expecting,” Dickinson said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.