LYNN — The No. 4 Danvers girls soccer team captured its first Division 2 North sectional title since 2009 on Monday evening following a 1-0 win over No. 2 Winchester in the Division 2 North title game at Manning Field.
“I’m just really happy for these guys, they’ve earned this,” said Danvers coach Jim Hinchion. “We came into this year knowing we’d have a pretty good team with a lot of players from last year, so we knew if we could keep everyone healthy that we’d have a chance to make a run.”
The difference in the game was a goal from junior midfielder Riley Baker with just over 20 minutes remaining in the second half. But another big difference in this game was the play of senior goalkeeper Mackenzie Gilmore, who made six saves in the shutout win and came up with several diving stops in the final minutes of the game to preserve the victory.
“They put a lot of pressure on her late, but she stepped up huge every time,” Hinchion said of Gilmore. “Even in the wet conditions tonight, she had great hands and was able to stop everything. She’s been a great goalie for us all year.”
The first half was dominated by Danvers, both in time of possession and scoring opportunities. The Falcons earned four corner kicks within the first 10 minutes of the game, but they couldn’t knock any of their chances home as Winchester goalie Silvia Dowdell (seven saves) was up to the task each time. Winchester was able to get a few chances of its own over the course of the rest of the first half, earning three corners. But, like Danvers, the Sachems couldn’t find the back of the net.
“It was kind of frustrating because we did control possession and had the wind at our back in that first half and got so many opportunities,” said Hinchion. “We talked about it at halftime like, ‘Hey, if we lose out here it’s our own fault.’ But the girls were hungry and they stepped up in the second half.”
The Falcons generated more scoring chances in the second half, starting with a free kick opportunity from just over 20 yards out less than two minutes into the half. That pressure continued until there were about 20 minutes left in the game, when Baker made her move. It started when Baker sent a nifty pass over to sophomore forward Abby Cash, who almost immediately took a shot on goal. While Dowdell jumped up to make an impressive save, the rebound bounced back out into the box to a waiting Baker, who had crashed the net following her pass. The ball came right to Baker’s foot and she rocketed a shot past the outstretched hands of Dowdell for the eventual game-winning goal.
The Sachems put the pressure on Danvers in the final few minutes of the game, but the winning combination of stout defense and Gilmore’s goalkeeping prowess kept Winchester off the board and sealed the victory for the Falcons.
But as good as this win feels for Danvers (18-2-1), there’s still one more game to go. The Falcons move on to the Division 2 EMass state championship game this weekend, where they will take on the winner of the Division 2 South title game between Notre Dame of Hingham and Medway. That contest will be played this evening (5 p.m.) at Taunton.
“We still have never won a state title, and we’ve only been to one state title game,” Hinchion said. “So we’ll be ready. Whoever makes it into that game deserves to be there just as we do, so hopefully we’ll take advantage of the opportunity.”