PEABODY — Thursday afternoon at Coley Lee Field, there was a lot on the line for both the Marblehead and Peabody girls soccer teams.
The Tanners needed a win to wrap up a tournament berth. The Magicians needed a win to keep the hopes of making the tournament alive.
Both teams battled from the opening to closing whistles, but two late goals lifted Peabody into the postseason with a 2-1 win over Marblehead.
“What a great, competitive game,” Peabody coach Dennis Desroches said. “Marblehead, hats off to them, their record is deceiving because it’s who they play. What a game. Great for both teams. Even play, back and forth action. They battled each other, it was awesome to watch, and it gives me a heart attack.”
It was the third time the two teams have faced off this season. The first in early September resulted in a scoreless tie, while the Tanners eked out a 1-0 win a couple of weeks ago in a game that didn’t count toward Northeastern Conference standings.
Thursday was more of the same. Neither team had an edge when it came to possession; the ball moved up and down the field so quickly and frequently that much of the action was concentrated at midfield. But that’s not to say neither team had scoring chances. The Tanners and Magicians both created opportunities, but both had trouble finding a way around the respective goalies: Hannah Garthe for Marblehead (who left the game late in the second half with a head injury) and Jordan Muse for Peabody.
About 13 minutes into the game, Peabody’s Aja Alimonte earned a direct kick at the 15 and hit the net, but Garthe scooped up the shot with ease. A couple of minutes later, Peabody’s Emily Nelson set up Jillian Arigo with a beautiful cross pass in front of the net. Arigo got a head on it, but the shot hit the crossbar and bounced out of play.
That was the story of the majority of the game for the Tanners, who put a lot of strong shots on net. But between shots not falling and Garthe’s excellent play in net, Peabody’s offensive efforts were fruitless for much of the contest.
“Their goalkeeper was, to me, MVP-caliber,” Desroches said. “This kid is a good goalkeeper. Great hands, great positioning. We knew we’d have our work cut out for us.”
Early in the second half, Lexi Bostley almost put Marblehead on the board with a free kick that sailed just wide of the net. A few minutes later, Nelson got a head on an incoming corner kick, but Garthe made the save.
It took a good break for Marblehead to finally get on the board. Carter Murray took the ball down the sideline for the Magicians, and earned a corner kick as a Peabody defender knocked it out of bounds. The ensuing kick led to a handball in the box, giving Marblehead a penalty shot. Bostley sunk a shot to Muse’s left to make it 1-0 Magicians.
The Tanners didn’t let the momentum swing decide the game, however. Just a couple of minutes later, Abigail Ryder’s shot was deflected out in front of the net by Garthe, and Nelson took advantage, sending a line drive shot past Garthe’s reach.
“We have to take more pride in not having it bounce around in our box and not let it get to that point,” Marblehead coach Jenna Roncarati said. “They’re easy goals when you’re shooting from inside the 18.”
The Magicians then got hit with a bit of bad luck, as Garthe went down with an injury during a play in front of the net. Backup keeper Rachael Saulnier stepped in and was strong through the final 10 minutes of the game.
“She makes some great saves. She’s very athletic and has great instincts, she’s been key for us,” Roncarati said of Garthe. “She had a great game (until the injury), but we’re lucky to have Rachel step in there, she’s been working hard all season and we feel comfortable having her in there.”
With five minutes to play, Nelson stuck the dagger in the heart of the Magicians on a beautiful shot from around the 15 yard-line to make it 2-1.
“I give our team a lot of credit for not folding after that PK,” Desroches said. “That was very disappointing. We could have folded but these girls got a little extra energy and we pushed forward, and fortunately for us it worked out in the end.”