Recorder: "Title Wave: Greenfield bests Frontier, 2-1"

By JEFF LAJOIE

Recorder Staff

Thursday, November 09, 2017

AGAWAM — As the officials sorted out what would be the most important call of the season just a few feet away, Audrey Bresciano waited.

Her mind was already made up. She was going to send the ball to the spot she liked most. But just standing and waiting; that was the hard part.

When her time came, the Greenfield High School junior delivered. Bresciano buried a penalty stroke into the back of the net with 7:06 remaining in the first overtime period, lifting the second-seeded Green Wave to a 2-1 win over top-seeded Frontier Regional School to capture the Western Mass. Division II Field Hockey Tournament championship Thursday night at Agawam High School.

The title is the second in a row for Greenfield (15-4-1), which needed penalty strokes to defeat Frontier in last year’s championship game. This time, simply overtime sufficed, as the teams met in the title contest for the third consecutive year.

The game’s pinnacle play came in the build up to Bresciano’s penalty stroke. Greenfield junior Raegan Hickey broke into the Frontier penalty circle midway through the first 15-minute overtime period. As Hickey closed in on the goal area, the referee whistled the Red Hawks for obstruction of her stick. The result was the stroke in a 1-1 game, and Bresciano’s name was called by coach Erin Thayer to take the all-important shot.

“I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to shoot it,” explained Bresciano of the attempt. “But the extra time (while the referees discussed the call), that just made me nervous having to stand there and think about it.”

Bresciano lifted her shot high and to the left, beating sprawling Frontier goalkeeper Skyla Burniske (five saves) to give the Wave a 2-1 win.

“Knowing that if I make it, we win a Western Mass. championship, that’s a lot to think about,” Bresciano said. “I just had to believe. Strokes are one the strongest parts of my game.”

Thayer said she had faith that Bresciano would come through with the game on the line.

“She had a little while to stand there and think about it, but she must’ve known what she wanted to do,” Thayer said of Bresciano’s shooting decision. “We very much believe in her in that spot. She’ll go up there and do it for us.”

The goal capped a wild, back and forth game that is certainly indicative of the rivalry the two teams have created over the years. Frontier (14-3-3) trailed 1-0 with time dwindling in the second half, before McKenzie Patterson saved the day. Olivia Vecellio carried the ball into the penalty circle, and when the ball was swept away, Patterson jumped on it and battled through traffic to sweep a shot past Greenfield goalkeeper Samantha Smith to tie the game, 1-1, with just 6:01 left in regulation.

“That’s one thing we’ve built upon all season is being resilient,” began Frontier coach Missy Mahar. “Going down but being able to come back and not think that the game is over. That’s what we talked about. This is the Western Mass. finals, there’s no guarantee of getting back here year after year. You’ve got to believe that you can come back and score. So I’m really proud of the girls. To fight the way they did, to come back and play the way they did. … I can’t fault the effort that they put into tonight’s game.”

Frontier’s momentum carried into overtime. Greenfield’s Kirsten Ward received a yellow card just before the end of regulation, meaning the Red Hawks had a man-advantage situation for five minutes of game action, and over three minutes of that carried into OT. With the teams moving to seven-on-seven for overtime, Frontier’s extra player in a seven-on-six situation was magnified.

“It was definitely a challenge,” admitted Thayer of the OT predicament. “You’re going five-on-six (in the field). But we talked about what we had to do and everyone had to step up a little more to make sure we did what we had to do on the field.”

Mahar said her team tried to strike early, or at least earn a quick penalty corner.

“You obviously try to take advantage of the man-down situation, push down the field and at least get a corner situation,” she offered. “That was our strategy, to keep the pressure up.”

Greenfield managed to survive two penalty corners, as Smith and the defense held tough and cleared the zone. The Wave ultimately broke out offensively when the penalty was over, leading to Hickey’s rush and subsequent penalty stroke.

Greenfield scored the first goal of the game seven minutes into the second half. Smith, who saved a Vecellio penalty stroke late in the first half to keep the game scoreless into intermission, came up with a big save on Patterson early in the second half, and the Wave took advantage on the other end.

Hickey, the program’s all-time leading scorer, broke free, beat two defenders, and reverse blasted a shot into the back of the cage, staking the Wave to a 1-0 lead with 23:02 remaining.

“That was huge, to get the first goal. It was big,” Thayer said.

While Greenfield hoped the one-goal cushion would hold, the overtime Gods had other ideas.

“It’s always a great game between Greenfield and Frontier. It’s almost like it wouldn’t be right if it wasn’t going into overtime,” Mahar said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top.”

Smith finished with six saves on the night, in what was just her third game of the season after returning from injury in the regular-season finale. She made a nice pad save on the penalty stroke, and had several diving stops to cut down breakaway attempts throughout the game. That included a diving play to break up a breakaway bid from Kathryn Mason less than two minutes into OT.

“It’s tournament-time and I just couldn’t let my teammates down,” Smith said of her return. “I had to come through.”

Greenfield advanced to play in the MIAA Div. II state semifinals, scheduled to be played Tuesday night against central Mass. champion Oakmont Regional High School in a game to be played at Grafton High School.