Swampscott escapes a nail-biter in D3 North semifinal

Swampscott girls soccer players gather around teammate Sophie DiGrande (#28) after the game-winning goal Wednesday night. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Swampscott girls soccer coach Norman James knew No. 3 Stoneham would be a tough test in the Division 3 North semifinal round Wednesday night.

His No.7 Big Blue were tested from start to finish in their 1-0 win at Manning Field.

“We knew this was a really good team,” James said. ” This is one of the best teams we have played. Danvers and Beverly are both very good but this team is tough mentally and physically. They played good soccer and challenged us.”

Swampscott found itself tied 0-0 with only seconds to play in the second overtime.

It looked like the game would be decided by penalty kicks but Swampscott finally broke the tie with just two seconds remaining. Grace DiGrande, who had struggled with corner kicks earlier in the night, sent a perfectly placed ball in front of the Stoneham goal. Sophie DiGrande, who had hit the post on a shot with 22:17 remaining in regulation, finished the play with a header goal to give Swampscott the win.

“We always want to get the ball out to her because she has a great shot and will shoot the ball,” James said of Sophie DiGrande. “She’s not afraid to shoot the ball. I kept yelling to get her the ball tonight. Her first shot hit the post and then another one I thought was in also. She is just consistent. She’s only a freshman so we have three more years of her.

“Grace was saying her corners weren’t great today,” James added. “I told her, ‘You know what the last one was so don’t worry about that. That’s what is important.'”

Despite the game being scoreless for a majority of the night both teams saw their fair share of opportunities.

Swampscott goalkeeper Nikki Rosa kept the Big Blue alive in the first half with several stops,  including a save with less than three minutes to go before halftime.

“Nikki came up big,” James said. “I told her today that this game might be hers to step up and she did big time. Our defense wasn’t consistent today. I’m glad that we settled down and played a better second half of the game.”

Later in the first overtime, Swampscott had a huge opportunity to put the game away on a penalty kick with three minutes remaining. Senior captain Haley Bernhardt took the kick for Swampscott but Stoneham goalkeeper Allyson Porter stood her ground to make the game- saving stop.

“The girls just never die,” James said. “The girls never want to die. The seniors, the sophomores, the freshman everyone stepped up. They knew they had to talk to Haley because she was so down after she thought we might lose with her missing that kick. That was tough for her. I’m glad that burden is off her shoulders.”

With the victory, Swampscott punched its ticket to the Division 3 North final, which will be played Sunday afternoon (1:30) at Manning Field. The Big Blue will take on another area team, the No. 4 Fenwick Crusaders.

For Swampscott, this marks the Big Blue’s second consecutive trip to the sectional final.

“These six seniors, from day one they had a job to do and that was to get back here and they did a good job,” James said of his senior class. “I’m proud of all six of them, they dug in and are also great leaders. We are going to miss them next year but we still have at least one more game.”

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