Walpole’s Alex Rodia (21) drives towards the cage with Wellesley’s Lauryn Nelson (4) hot on her tail.
Photos by Michael Flanagan
By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The defending Division I state champion Walpole Porkers (7-0-2) traveled to rival Wellesley (8-0-2) on Tuesday afternoon for a battle between not only two of the top teams in the Bay State Conference, but all of Massachusetts, as both entered the game ranked in the top-five of the latest Boston Globe high school field hockey rankings.
Back on September 5, the Porkers and Raiders opened their respective seasons at Turco Field, but neither were able to find the back of the net thanks to mutual shutdown defensive play. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.
“It’s similar to a state tournament game. It always is against them,” said Wellesley head coach Erin Stickle when describing the duels the Raiders tend to have against Walpole. “It’s exciting to play Walpole, they are annually one of the best teams in the state and you have to focus on never giving up.”
On Tuesday, the Raiders and Porkers played another game in which both sides were extremely stout defensively. However, unlike their first meeting on September 5, both sides were able to put a ball in the back of the net. With 22:36 remaining in the first half, Brooke Hamilton tipped home a shot on a corner attempt to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead. A little under 10 minutes later, however, Walpole responded via the stick of Celia Walsh, who slapped home the rebound of an Alex Rodia shot to knot the score back up at one, and the game entered the half tied.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Walpole controlled the bulk of possessions and worked the ball around the Wellesley end searching for the go-ahead goal. Wellesley goaltender Natalie Boyle, however, refused to surrender the tie-breaking tally, turning away several glorious scoring opportunities for the Porkers, but maybe none more important than her kick save on a Walpole corner attempt in the game’s final minutes.
Following a flurry of late scoring chances by the Porkers, the Raiders were able to hang on for the 1-1 draw. So, despite the slight uptick in offense with a goal apiece, neither the Porkers nor Raiders could pot more goals than the other for the second time this season.
Stickle says that much of Wellesley’s success this season against the Porkers has been due to the Raiders’ not allowing Walpole any extra scoring opportunities and limiting the amount of penalty corners they surrender.
“We’ve been scoring off of our corners a lot this season,” said Stickle. “We had seven penalty corners today while Walpole only had three, so that’s definitely a huge advantage for us.”
Stickle praised her goaltender, Natalie Boyle, for putting away some nerves and constructing a clutch performance late in the game.
“Last time we played Walpole she had 19 shots,” said Stickle. “She hasn’t seen that many shots since then and she was a little nervous. I was nervous. But she came up with those huge saves at the end of the game and it proved to be crucial for us.”
With both regular season meetings between Walpole and Wellesley ending in draws, the Bay State Conference title could come down to total goal differential if both the Porkers and Raiders end up running the table the rest of the way. Nevertheless, both of these teams have their eyes set on big things come postseason and seem poised to make a long run in the Division I state tournament.
Wellesley will host Milton on October 12 while Walpole will play host to Braintree on October 17.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.