BRAINTREE – The mark of a champion is not so much what is determined by what happens when everything goes its way, as it is by how it responds when it is faced with a great challenge.
That’s exactly what happened in the first half of Tuesday night’s Division 2 state semifinal against Dennis-Yarmouth when an aggressive, athletic foe had the bulk of the possession and the better of the play at Braintree High.
But the Raider defense held. Through eight penalty corners and several tremendous shots on net, they held. With senior Sydney Poulin’s goal, Watertown emerged from the half with a 1-0 lead.
Then the Raiders took over for long stretches of a suffocating second half on their way to a 1-0 victory and a ninth straight trip to the Division 2 state final Saturday in Worcester.
“We had to play good defense as a team,” said Poulin, who followed up her game-winning goal with 1:37 left in this past Saturday’s North Sectional final against Manchester-Essex with an adrenaline-filled display of energy, skill and strength on Tuesday night. “Break out as a team. We were all working hard. We had to fix things throughout the first half, but we were coming out strong, working hard throughout the whole game.
“We still have things to do. But it was good.”
Watertown earned the chance to defend its state championship once again on Saturday when it will face familiar state final foe Oakmont in the firld hockey final at WPI at 10:30 a.m. Oakmont beat Greenfield 7-1 in the Central/West semifinal.
“It’s such a challenge every single year,” Watertown coach Eileen Donahue said. “Every year it’s been a challenge for us to start our season and go through what we go through to get to this game.”
That challenge was as great as it’s been in the first half on Tuesday when D-Y dominated the early possession with three corners in the first seven minutes. But it was Watertown that cracked the scoreboard as Poulin scored for the second straight tournament game 4:10 into the contest.
The Raiders played defense much of the rest of the half as they defended four more corners with midfielders and attackers dropping back and playing tremendously in the defensive circle.
“We had to be very calm defensively,” Poulin said. “We had to keep our sticks down and just be patient. We knew we were going to come up with the ball if we kept working hard. So it was just good team defense today.”
Senior Jonna Kennedy was there in force whenever the ball made it to the net with five saves in the first half – including two sprawling stops and one hard shot she batted out of the air with her glove.
After Kennedy’s glove save with 1:27 on the clock, Poulin made a great run down the length of the field for a Watertown corner with 47 seconds left that helped run out the half.
“They had to stay with the momentum and stay united in regards to that,” Donahue said. “We actually needed a little more help. Then some people came up strong and determined.”
Junior Gabby Venezia came up with two big defensive clears in the first half of the second half to go along with a Kennedy save with 15:03 left in the contest. Poulin then had a long run to earn a corner with 10:47 to go.
Senior Maddie Leitner and junior Olivia Lampasona had shots off the corner and Poulin fought for yet another corner with 9:10 on the clock. While Watertown could not pad the lead, they did put up a fierce attack with Poulin passing to senior Lauren Petrillo and Leitner for pressure that kept D-Y on its heels.
“I think our endurance pays off for our team,” Donahue said. “I think that helps us out a lot. Clearly, they were clogging us down there to not let us get in. But, in the long run, our team endurance helped us in this game.”
Sophomore Aurise Tattrie, who played a great defensive game all night, prevented the clear and the Raiders withstood some late D-Y pressure.
Then it was Petrillo and Poulin who helped control possession into the final minute when the Raiders earned a corner and ran out the clock.
“I think we knew in the back of our head that we had to play strong the whole entire game like we always do,” Poulin said. “We played as a team today. We came out on top – which is good.”
Scott Souza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.