The Danvers High School girls’ soccer team (18-2-1, fourth seed) headed back to Manning Field in Lynn Monday night, Nov. 13, for the Division 2 North championship game against Winchester (17-2-2), the second seed. It’s the second time in as many years that the Falcons have played for the sectional title. Arlington dashed their dreams last year to the tune of 3-0, whom they defeated last Thursday, Nov. 9, in a North semifinal match-up, 2-1. Then, on Monday night, they took down Winchester, 1-0 on a second half goal by junior midfielder Riley Baker.
The Falcons will now take on the South winner. It will be either Notre Dame of Hingham or Medway. Their championship game is slated for Tuesday night, Nov. 14, at Taunton High School, starting at 5 p.m.
With the win over Winchester Monday night, Danvers was able to snap an eight-year drought between sectional titles. In 2009, they defeated Wayland also at Manning Field to secure the North crown.
But in 2017, it was a cold, rainy Monday night, but both Danvers and Winchester were ready for a battle.
Danvers came out flying right from the start. They attacked and possessed the ball very well to keep the ball in the Winchester end most of the time. The Sachems finally got a shot on goalie Mackenzie Gilmore with just under seven minutes remaining in the half. The Falcons already had six shots on Winchester goalie Silvia Dowdell.
Center midfielders Lydia Runnals and Jess Pelletier created numerous opportunities for the team early on, and as a result the locals pressured the Winchester backs and goalkeeper into many mistakes, according to coach Jim Hinchion.
Forwards Hannah Lejeune and Abby Cash, along with midfielders Lauren Clement and Riley Baker, who scored the game-winner halfway through the second half on a solo effort, also made it difficult for Winchester to get out of its own end, Hinchion mentioned.
The Falcons had numerous corner kick opportunities, but were unable to get that first goal until Baker’s opportunistic blast from in close after a flurry of chances by her teammates.
The slight wind was at the Falcons’ backs early on, so they knew how important it was to score in the first half, while the Danvers defenders did a good job limiting Winchester to very little time in their end.
"Sarah McCarriston and Abbi Clickstein set the tone early that they were not going to be beaten to the ball on the outsides," said Hinchion. "Becky Henion came into the game, and brought that same mentality. Center-backs Madision Pesce and Erica Blanch stayed composed, while communicating well with their defensive teammates."
The Sachems did manage to get two corner kicks, but both times the Danvers defense cleared them away to keep the game scoreless at halftime.
"I felt we left too many scoring chances on the field in the first half," Hinchion said. "We played very well, but were lacking the final piece on our attacks, especially on our many corner kicks. We knew they'd have a little wind with them in the second half, and they were certainly going to pick it up a notch against us.
"As a result, my biggest concern was that we had let our best opportunities go by. Their defenders got back quickly, and were making it crowded for us in their end.
"Right before the second half started, I reminded the team how it felt to be beaten in this game a year ago. I told them that if they want to be holding that North title plaque at the end of the game they'd have to go out and get it."
The Danvers girls certainly listened to their coach’s words closely, and responded by controlling play once again.
However, the Winchester defense was starting to clamp down on the Danvers offense, and was making things difficult.
"Midfielders Becca Rocker and Livvy Anderson brought great speed to the game," said Hinchion, "and Sarah Unczur came off the bench, and pressured the Winchester backs with her aggressiveness."
At the midpoint of the half, Danvers created the chance they needed. Through some great passing up the right side of the field, Abby Cash hit a shot on net that Dowdell was just barely able to get a hand on. Unczur also helped out on that play, and when the rebound came out to Baker at the back post she calmly banged it home.
"That was a great play by all the girls involved in that attack," Hinchion said. "We talked about framing the goal, and making sure someone is making a run to the back post when someone is taking a shot. The keeper made the initial save, but Riley was waiting at the back post."
Now trailing by goal with less than 20 minutes to play, Winchester picked up the intensity. Several times they were able to get behind the Danvers defense. However, the speed of the Danvers defenders enabled them to get back on each play to make the defensive stop.
Gilmore made several saves in the cold and wet conditions to keep her teammates ahead on the scoreboard.
Specifically, late in the game, Gilmore made a crucial save after keeping her hands and the ball from crossing the goal line. Defender Erica Blanch also made several big clears, as the clock was ticking away on the Winchester season.
When the officials sounded the final whistle, the Danvers bench exploded out on the field to celebrate the program’s first sectional title in eight years with their teammates.
"I'm so happy for the girls," said Hinchion. "They set a goal early on in the season that they wanted to get to this point again, and win the title this time. They really played well [against Winchester]. Riley [Baker] had a great goal, but she also played a fantastic game overall. We beat Winchester two years ago in the tournament, and Baker had a huge play in that game, as well.
"I also thought Mackenzie [Gilmore] was solid in this game. It was not easy to play keeper under those weather conditions, but I also loved the way our backs played in this game. All five of them worked together really well to shut down a very high powered offense.
"It was very impressive to get the shutout against a strong team like Winchester. The girls earned this win, and I'm proud of them. However, we still have unfinished business to take care of. We want that state title."
It eluded the program in 2003, when Taylor Norman, who’s now one of Hinchion’s assistant coaches, was a freshman on that squad, which lost to Belchertown at Worchester State College. But now, Norman has an opportunity to help shape a new era with a state conquest.