BY JOSH PERRY (@Josh_Perry10)
Mon, Nov 16, 2015
MARSHFIELD, Mass. - The wind was whipping across James Anderson Field. Goal kicks struggled to clear 30 yards and the ball would not even sit still long enough for players to take corner kicks.
Needham played with the wind at its back for the first half and scored a pair of goals to take control of the match, but Whitman-Hanson got the wind in the final 40 minutes. Needham coach Carl Tarabelli told his team that the Panthers would eventually find the back of the net, it was going to happen, but the Rockets needed to respond to that goal in the right way.
“We didn’t want to pack it in,” he explained. “The wind is going to favor them and they’ll have possessional play and I said, they are going to score. We just can’t worry when they score…if they score just pick the ball up and keep going.”
Tarabelli credited the senior leadership of his experienced back line, in particular senior sweeper Dee Picou, for managing to clear off all but one Whitman-Hanson attack in the second half. Despite a Lauren Bonavita golazo, Needham claimed a 2-1 victory on Saturday morning at Marshfield High and its first Div. 1 South title since 2000.
The Rockets have been considered one of the best teams in the states coming into recent seasons, but have struggled to bring home silverware. Coming into this fall without the usual fanfare and without the big names of the past brought the Rockets closer as a team.
“We committed ourselves at the beginning of the year that we didn’t have any superstars,” said Tarabelli. “We weren’t going to rely on one or two kids to carry us, it had to be a team effort. That’s what they did.”
The Panthers nearly ruined the afternoon for Needham in the opening four minutes when Elana Wood powered a header off the post on an early corner. Nine minutes later, Needham took the lead.
Junior forward Crea Baker-Durante ran onto a ball played over the top of the defense, took a touch, and slid it past the onrushing Panthers keeper to make it 1-0. It was the fourth straight tournament game that Baker-Durante, who is carrying a hip injury that limits her minutes, has scored for the Rockets.
“Crea, her goals per minute is incredible,” said Tarabelli. “I put her in she scores, I put her in she scores [again].”
Needham doubled its lead in the 27th minute. Off a Whitman-Hanson corner, the ball was cleared to Baker-Durante and she raced forward. A drop of the shoulder and a drag move got the ball past the last defender and then she coolly slotted the ball past keeper Skylar Kuzmich to make it 2-0.
Tarabelli said, “We had the wind in the first half and we knew that we had to take advantage of it…We had to play everything low and that’s what we did - we beat them low on the counter.”
Whitman-Hanson coach Dave Floeck added, “Unfortunately they got two because at 1-0 we thought it was fine, but two was going to make it tougher because they’re pretty stingy defensively.”
The Panthers had a chance to cut the lead in half before the break, but Taylor Robertson’s shot off a Taylor Kofton cross was right at Needham keeper Elizabeth Vallantini. Needham almost added a third when Rose Evans forced Kuzmich to tip a 30-yard strike onto the crossbar.
After the break, the game changed with Needham looking right into the wind. But the Rockets defense continued to hold firm. Picou, who is headed to the University of Cincinnati, continually broke up Whitman-Hanson attacks and chased down balls over the top.
“She’s been playing on the outside all year because she has speed and a natural left foot,” said Tarabelli, “but we had to absorb…and Dee cleaned up everything at the back.”
The best early chance of the half fell to Baker-Durante and she forced Kuzmich into a save at full stretch.
The score stayed the same until the 65th minute when Bonavita stepped into a shot from 30 yards and hit a laser into the top corner. Floeck immediately called timeout to try and urge his players forward and to keep attacking.
“It was a world class strike,” he said. “No goalkeeper was going to stop that and we felt if we got the one then momentum would be there.”
Floeck added, “They kept going right to the last minute we had one roll just past the far post that we thought was going in.”
Vallantini made a save on Kelsey Gilbert in the bottom corner with three minutes remaining and then in stoppage time a Gilbert cross picked out Alexis Fruzzetti at the back post, but her shot rolled inches wide preserving the Needham lead.
“This is the best team in the state,” said Tarabelli about the Panthers, many of whom he coaches in club soccer.
“We thought that we as a team could match up with them better than most but the path to any kind of championship had to go through Whitman-Hanson.”
The path to a state title will now have to go through Needham, as the Rockets take on the winner of the Div. 1 North final between Lincoln-Sudbury and Peabody on Tuesday night at Brockton High starting at 5:30 p.m.