WORCESTER — There’s really no other word to describe what happened other than “unbelievable.”
And if Newburyport would have won, try speechless.
It was just the beauty of sports on full display.
In truth, Saturday’s Division 3 Championship game between Watertown and Newburyport was only a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in seed only. The Raiders and their 20-plus state titles have dominated Mass. field hockey unlike any other team in any other sport, and walked into WPI as two-time defending champions and winners of an incredible 74 in a row.
Oh yeah, and they were holding the national record for most shutouts in a row at 41.
This was the United States vs. Russia.
This was UMBC vs. Virginia.
If Newburyport even scored a goal, it was going to be national news.
Um …. they scored three, folks. Three!
Newburyport gave Watertown the toughest game its played in years, but in the end it was still just a tad short. Superstar Molly Driscoll, a Boston University commit and the program’s all-time leading scorer, found the back of the cage three times, with her final tally being the game-winner with 13:30 left to lift Watertown to a 4-3 victory and the state title. The Raiders are the Division 3 State Champions for the third year in a row, but the Clippers — making their first ever appearance in a title game — put on a hell of a performance to nearly pull off the Cinderella story of all Cinderella stories.
And that shutout streak: Over.
“Scoring that many goals, I mean, even though we didn’t win, we broke one of (Watertown’s) records,” said senior captain Josie Palma. “So that’s a win for us.”
And get this.
In the few days leading up to the game, Newburyport coach Shannon Haley and her staff were reciting “Miracle” quotes to drive the message home to the team that — in the words of Kevin Garnett — anything is possible. Which was only cemented earlier in the day on Saturday when before the game, the Clippers received special, personalized messages of encouragement from two 1980 USA Hockey “miracle workers,” Mike Eruzione and Dave Christian.
“We just said to the kids that we feel like there’s both small and big victories to this game,” said Haley. “We just played our absolute hearts out, and, I mean, Watertown hasn’t been scored on in a number of games, and for our kids to score not one, not two but three goals is amazing.”
With how the game started, too, the end result was even more stunning.
Just over a minute in, Driscoll controlled the ball near the top of the circle, zoomed through two defenders, and blasted home the 148th goal of her career to make it 1-0 in blink. Right then and there, if you had the feeling that it was going to be a long night for Newburyport (21-2-0), you’d be justified. Which looked even better when a few minutes later, off the third corner of the game for Watertown (22-0-0), it was Aislin Devaney tipping home a shot at the left post to make it 2-0.
But the Clippers just didn’t quit, man.
They were playing with house money, and weren’t about to let anything get too out of hand.
“We kind of knew that we’d worked all season to get up to this point, but we were like, ‘We have nothing to lose,'” said fellow captain Emma Keefe. “We just had to leave it on the field. We’ve practiced for thousands of minutes, so we knew we just had 60 more minutes left to give it our all.”
The record-breaking goal then finally came.
It was midway through the second quarter off a corner, and Emma Cowles sent in the entry pass to Keefe. Her rocket was kicked by goalie Ava Husson, but came right to Ciara Geraghty who slid it into the back of the cage to score the first goal against Watertown in three years. Moments later, the buzzer sounded for halftime in a 2-1 game.
Wait just a minute?
This wasn’t about to be a formality, huh?
The Clippers had come ready to play and prepared to win, and were very much in it at the break.
“Scoring those goals was really amazing for us,” said another captain in Rita Cahalane. “We worked so hard, and I’m so proud of every one of us.”
Then just like Watertown in the first half, Newburyport scored a minute into the second. It was Delaney Woekel scoring her team-high 24th of the season to knot things up, and all of a sudden a Watertown team that hadn’t allowed a goal in 41 games, surrendered two in about 10 minutes. Driscoll quickly responded with her second of the game to put the Raiders back on top, but again the Clippers wouldn’t say die. A long pass found Morgan Valeri behind the defense, and the senior UNH-commit made a nice move around the goalie and had an open cage to tie things back up at 3-3 heading into the fourth quarter.
A tie game heading into the final 15 minutes.
Just truly, truly unbelievable stuff.
The fourth quarter, however, belong to Watertown. The champs certainly flexed their muscle and their pedigree, and earned a flurry of corners over the final frame. On an early one with 13:30 left, Driscoll received the entry pass, split two defenders again and just fired a bullet into the bottom-left corner of the net for the game-winner. Massive credit, though, needs to go to the Clipper corner kill of Cahalane, Katie Conway, Keefe and Riley Lombard — as well as goalie Cody Saboliauskas, of course — for keeping it a one-goal game when the Raiders generated chance after chance.
“These kids have battled all season long,” said Haley. “We told them that they changed the face of Newburyport field hockey. The expectation is high, and I think that’s a huge credit to the senior class. They’re just such gifted athletes and such amazing kids, and they were the heart of our team.”
So the final buzzer went off, and Watertown stormed the WPI field in triumph as champions again.
There were some tears on the Newburyport sideline, but a lot of smiles, too. There was a recognition of what was just accomplished, even in defeat, and a sense of pride radiating through the postgame hugs.
The Clippers went toe-to-toe with Goliath on the biggest stage, and nearly took down the beast with their last stone.
Watertown 4, Newburyport 3
Division 3 State Championship
Goals: W — Molly Driscoll 3, Aislin Devaney; N — Ciara Geraghty, Delaney Woekel, Morgan Valeri
Saves: W — Ava Husson 5; N — Cody Saboliauskas 13
Watertown (22-0-0): 2 2 — 4
Newburyport (21-2-0): 1 2 — 3