Maximizing possessions proved a winning formula for the Walpole field hockey team.
Despite yielding 19 penalty corners to Franklin while generating just six of their own, the top-seeded Porkers scored on three attempts, enough to secure a 4-2 victory over the No. 4 Panthers in a Division 1 semifinal at Taunton’s Alexio Stadium Wednesday.
Seeking its 13th state championship, but first since 2016, Walpole earned its third straight trip to the final, and third straight matchup Saturday at WPI against two-time defending champion Andover, a 3-0 winner over Wachusett.
“We knew we had to stay composed, they were fast,” Walpole back Katie Colleran said after making three defensive saves off corners. “Our defensive corner group stayed together and worked together.”
Kerin Birch, a Bryant University commit, opened the scoring for the Porkers (21-1) just 2:40 into regulation off a lob shot from just inside the penalty arc off Walpole’s initial corner chance.
Fresh off a save from Abby Johnson (11 saves), a University of New Hampshire commit, Izzy Adams flew down field for the first of her two goals 2:06 into the second quarter.
It was during the second frame that Franklin (20-1-1) amassed seven penalty corners to none for Walpole, but the dam held for the Porkers until Haley Wernig cracked the code for a goal 3:07 into the third, cutting Walpole’s lead to 2-1.
“We struggled to dig it out clean, but other than that [second quarter], I thought defensively we were sound and strong,” said Walpole coach Jen Quinn.
Adams responded just over 2 minutes later — off a corner — to give Walpole a two-goal cushion, 3-1, and Kendal Cusack put home a rebound during another corner sequence at 13:40 of the third.
Raena Crandall had one more goal for Franklin at 10:46 of the fourth.
Andover 3, Wachusett 0 — Junior Bella DiFiore had a singular target. She had to get the job done for the two-time defending Division I Golden Warriors (19-2) and help them reach their third consecutive final.
After a scoreless first half against third-seeded Wachusett,, DiFiore stayed true to her word, scoring two goals in the second half of the semifinals at Assabet Valley Regional High in Marlborough. Junior Mia Giaimo was the first to put the Golden Warriors on the board.
“I just needed to get the job done,” DiFiore said. “I knew my teammates were going to help me with that. I think the first goal really kicked us into motion.”
DiFiore was quick on her feet and created scoring opportunities multiple times. Andover first-year coach Bridget Morris was confident that DiFiore would show up when it mattered most.
“I love Bella,” Morris said. “She just really gives the game everything she has. To see her come out with that offensive power, this year in particular, has been great.”
Morris dealt with plenty of challenges in her inaugural season, ranging from injuries to a young and inexperienced roster.
“This group is such a hard-working group,” Morris said. “It was a surprise for them when the previous coach retired and I think it threw them off. But they’ve just taken it in their stride and blown me away with their work ethic.”
The Golden Warriors will enter familiar territory when they take on top-seeded Walpole for the third consecutive year in the state final.
“The kids don’t have a problem with the pressure at all,” Morris said. “We talked really hard about putting in the effort and giving everything you have to the game. I truly have said to them that if you’re going to lose, lose to a team that’s better than you and not because you didn’t play well.”
Division 3 State
Watertown 1, Sandwich 0 — In what was the closest game top-seeded Watertown has played since last year’s state championship, the Raiders proved they could handle adversity against a familiar postseason foe.
After holding off fourth-seeded Sandwich to win back-to-back state titles, Watertown eked out a narrow victory after junior Rachel Egan scored the lone goal with 1:02 remaining in the first half of a Division 3 semifinal win at Hingham High.
“I just happened to be there at the right time to poke it in,” Egan said. “It does feel great [to score]. I was happy to be there at the right moment.”
The win propels Watertown (21-0-0) to the state final against second-seeded Newburyport (21-1-0) on Saturday at WPI (Time TBA). Watertown’s semifinal victory extended its win streak to 74 games, including 41 consecutive shutouts, with the Raiders outscoring their opponents, 136-0.
“I’m very proud of the girls to be able to hold onto that lead all game,” said Watertown coach Eileen Donahue. “We didn’t score as many [as usual], but the end result was good.”
Sandwich finished 20-1-1 after suffering its third consecutive season-ending loss to Watertown.
The Raiders captured the 2021 state title with a 1-0 double-overtime victory over the Blue Knights, then repeated with a 2-0 win in last year’s final.
“I could not have asked for one more inch out of any kid,” said Sandwich coach Kelsy Beaton. “Every single kid left everything they had on the field. They fought, they played hard, and they did incredibly well.”
D3 🏑 Semifinals— Brad Joyal (@BradJoyal) November 16, 2023
No. 4 Sandwich — 0
No. 1 Watertown — 1
The two-time defending state champion Raiders (21-0-0) are heading back to the state final. They’ll play No. 2 Newburyport (21-1-0) on Saturday at WPI (Time TBA). @GlobeSchools pic.twitter.com/3Qb7JapNha
Division 4 State
Monomoy 2, Manchester Essex 1 — Dealt gut-wrenching losses to Uxbridge in the past two semifinals, the third-seeded Sharks (17-2-3) finally got over the hump to clinch the program’s first championship appearance with the victory over No. 2 Manchester Essex at Hingham High.
Monomoy (17-2-3) overcame a 1-0 deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter goals by junior Emily Layton off penalty corners. The comeback secures a third straight postseason meeting against two-time defending state champion Uxbridge (21-1-0) in Saturday’s final at WPI (TBD).
“It’s honestly such a surreal feeling — it doesn’t feel real,” Layton said. “This is what we worked for for so long. We knew that we could do it.”
Manchester Essex (17-2-3) took a 1-0 lead when sophomore Laila Mears buried a rebound 2:53 into the second half. But Monomoy found a second gear in the final quarter, and its increased pressure resulted in a flurry of consecutive corners that ultimately led to Layton’s two goals.
“We’re confident that we’ve got a really strong group of people on that circle,” Monomoy second-year coach Kyle Cappallo said. “If we get a chance to get some goals, then that’s where we’re going to get it done. That was our strategy and it worked.”
The Sharks will try to make more history against an Uxbridge squad they are mighty familiar with. En route to back-to-back state titles, the Spartans won last year’s semifinal meeting, 3-2, in double overtime.
Uxbridge earned a 6-0 win when the teams met Oct. 9 in Harwich.
“Anything can happen,” Cappallo said. “Last year, we took them to double-OT after scoring at the end of regulation. That game didn’t go our way, but we’re going to prepare ourselves and stick with our strategy and see how our luck goes.”
Jake Levin reported from Taunton, Brad Joyal from Hingham, and Vishakaha Deshpande from Marlborough.