Quite frankly, they were not supposed to get this far.
However, the Newburyport High girls’ lacrosse team refused to accept anything less.
After Monday’s thrilling 11-9 semifinal comeback win over defending Division 2 state champion Norwell at Babson College, the Clippers will play in Saturday’s state final at Boston University.
Coach Catherine Batchelder’s squad has staved off elimination in three consecutive come-from-behind performances.
“The girls look at each other in every game we’re down and keep telling themselves they don’t want this ride to end,” Batchelder said.
“It sounds that simple, but they make it happen. . . . They refuse to quit.”
Monday’s heroics were no different. The Clippers trailed 6-3 in the first half, and then 7-5 early in the second.
Some teams start to panic. The Clippers (15-4) were in familiar territory.
“It’s supposed to be over, but we won’t let it,” said senior captain Julia Kipp , who sparked the rally with a team-leading five goals.
“Our coach tells us we know what to do, when to do it, and we come up big in crunch time.”
Before embarking on its current — and program-best — 13-game winning streak, Newburyport stumbled out to an 0-3 start this season.
A squad leaning on its seven seniors had to incorporate seven freshmen and three sophomores into the rotation.
The growing pains were evident.
A 7-6 loss to Cape Ann League rival Masconomet April 24 was the final straw.
Batchelder felt the team’s mind-set was in the wrong place. She held a team meeting that night, talked over their issues, issued a couple of sprints, then called it a night.
Her message worked.
“We never wanted to be in that position again,” recalled senior captain Alexandra Peffer . “And we haven’t since.”
Peffer (88 goals, 13 assists) and Kipp (93 goals, 28 assists) have been nothing short of sensational during Newburyport’s second-half surge.
They have played together since fifth grade, including their four-year stint as varsity starters.
“We read each other’s minds,” Peffer said.
To which Kipp replied with a laugh: “We make eye contact, we nod, and we go. It’s worked for years.”
Batchelder admits she has counted on the duo since their freshman year.
“They’re a double anchor that instills a strong sense of confidence, which is what it takes to win.”
Freshman goalie Isabelle Sarra , who played a field position in the opener, is the X factor.
The freshman committed to the positional switch the following day in practice, promising her coach it would be her best decision.
She led the Cape Ann League in both goals-against and save percentage categories.
“She’s without question one of the most natural athletes I’ve seen in the cage,” Batchelder said. “Her instincts are off the chart.”
The Clippers have adopted the ‘Why not us?’ mentality.
The back of their tournament shirts reads: heart.
A perfect combination of both team mottos has placed them one win away from a state championship.
“Proving everyone wrong is a great feeling,” Peffer said. “We’re here now, and it seems surreal, but we’re not done.”
still on the rise
North Andover coach Meredith Prior embraced an emotional Leah Chittick with a hug following Monday’s 14-4 loss to Westwood in the Division 1 state semifinals.
It signaled the end of the Scarlet Knights’ most successful season (21-2-1) in program history.
As she told all of her players, the first-year coach relayed a simple message to her standout junior midfielder: We can come back next year and do it.
“I kept telling them it’s not just about this one game,” Prior said. “Yeah, this is a loss, but we went on a run that everyone should be more than proud of.”
As for Prior’s message, the future is certainly bright .
Chittick, the reigning Merrimack Valley Conference Player of the Year, will return after an 84-goal, 44-assist campaign.
The sky’s the limit for sophomore goalie Lauren Hiller — who earned the highest praise from both Prior and Westwood coach Leslie Frank following her 12-save performance on Monday — after submitting an all-MVC goalie season.
Her classmate, defenseman Emma Johns (MVC Defender of Year), joins all-conference teammates Abbie Karalis (71 goals, 42 assists), Michelle Poirier (66 goals, 33 assists), and Nicole Ayers as key returnees.
“From our seniors to our sophomores, it’s been amazing,” Prior added. “When you’re an athlete, you play with your heart. That’s what they did. Nonstop heart, and that’s what they’ll do again.”
Fourteen returning players have already set their sights on avenging Monday’s loss.
Their next chance may be 365 days away, but Prior’s girls believe they will be back.
Based on the Scarlet Knights’ progressive rise in Division 1 during the past few seasons, there is no reason to believe they won’t be.
Albano is secret weapon for Beverly
Junior attack Nick Albano was unquestionably Beverly’s most valuable player during the program’s first run to the Division 2 North title.
In three sectional tourney games, the Northeastern Conference’s Player of the Year accounted for 20 (five goals, 15 assists) of his team’s 33 goals.
With his second goal late in the first half of the sectional final against Marblehead on Saturday, he surpassed 100 goals for his career, finishing with four goals and five assists.
Through 22 games, Albano’s balanced production (57 goals, 62 assists) rivals any of the region’s top dual offensive threats.
“He’s a pleasure to coach because he just loves to play lacrosse,” said Beverly coach John Pynchon , whose squad lost to Hingham, 9-8, in Tuesday’s state semifinal.
Albano sliced a typically stout Marblehead defense — which allowed only 11 total goals in its previous two games — with three goals and five assists in the first half Saturday.
His stick craftiness and instinctive cross-field vision to find open teammates kept the Magicians on their heels all afternoon.
“It’s important to keep the defense guessing,” Albano said.
The Marblehead girls’ improbable run to a second consecutive Division 2 North final fell short for the second year in a row with a 12-11 loss to Newburyport.
With just three returning starters, coach Annie Pugh guided the Magicians to a 15-8 mark.
“No one expected us to get here, but the girls believed all along,” said Pugh, who had six freshmen on her squad.
“When we stepped off the bus for that final time, the girls kept asking what more they could have done,” Pugh said. “Walking out with silver twice in a row keeps them hungry. . . . We’ll be back to try and change that.”Joseph Saade can be reached at email@example.com.