Monday, April 13, 2015

Acton-Boxboro edges Nashoba to win Division 1 state title

WORCESTER — The Acton-Boxboro field hockey players huddled on the sideline at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, with blue and yellow blankets resting on their shoulders to keep themselves warm. They bounced in place because of the cold and because their team was just 10 seconds away from a state championship.

Five . . . four . . . the clock ticked down and the players looked at one another with wide eyes. Three . . . two . . . one. When the buzzer sounded, they threw their blankets to the ground and jumped in jubilation. Suddenly, the cold wasn’t so unbearable.

The whole team sprinted to goalkeeper Sarah Bentley and they hopped and shouted as one.

“It was such a relief when the clock hit zero,” senior Leah Cardarelli said.

After beating Nashoba, 1-0, Acton-Boxboro (23-0-1) had plenty to celebrate. First, it survived the Chieftains’ bombardment at the end of the game. Second, it avenged last year’s loss to Walpole that ended its chance at a state championship. Third, and most important, it was the Division 1 state champion.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Colonials senior Maggie Bettez said. “Everything you worked for paying off.”

Acton-Boxboro controlled the tempo early, as Cardarelli and junior Meg Barrett had multiple scoring chances. The Colonials attempted seven corners in the first half, including one that eventually was the difference.

Coach Mae Shoemaker called a timeout with 8:12 remaining in the half. She didn’t make any tactical adjustments, but encouraged her team to slow down and relax.

“I was trying to get them not to rush anything because they were playing with a little franticness,” Shoemaker said. “I said, ‘You’ve just got to calm down and do what you do best.’ ”

Barrett sent a corner to Cardarelli, who dropped it to Bettez. Bettez fired a shot that Barrett tipped in to give Acton-Boxboro the lead with 8:05 remaining in the half.

In the second half, the Chieftains (20-2-1) applied more pressure and had multiple chances, but defender Caroline Little and Bentley prevented any Nashoba shots from finding the back of the net.

“Sarah has been a rock,” Shoemaker said. “The defense just works so hard.”

Nashoba had one final chance with just more than a minute remaining. Shoemaker said she flashed back to last season’s semifinal loss to eventual champion Walpole on a late goal.

“I was like, déjà vu,’’ Shoemaker said with a smile.

This year the result went Acton-Boxboro’s way, as the Colonials captured the school’s fifth title.

Cardarelli and Co. can now forget about last season’s loss and cherish this season’s triumph.

“It’s just really exciting,” Cardarelli said. “I love this group of girls and I’m so happy I got to share this moment with them.”

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