WENHAM — The Gloucester girls soccer team sent a clear message to its future opponents Friday:
The Fishermen aren’t going to go down without a fight.
After falling behind to visiting No. 18 seed Melrose early in the second half of yesterday’s Division 2 North preliminary round game, No. 15 seed Gloucester turned it around, found the equalizer midway through the second half and battled to overtime.
Two scoreless overtime periods later, the Fishermen’s fate came down to penalty kicks — and they didn’t disappoint.
Seniors Bianca Giacalone, Kali Cook and Melodie Orrell each buried penalty kicks to seal the 1-1 (3-1 PKs) win for the Fishermen, who move on to face No. 2 seed Hamilton-Wenham on Sunday.
“We like drama,” Gloucester coach Alex White said. “That’s how we’ve been. It was a hard-fought game and both teams didn’t want to lose and it stinks for them. Worst way to lose is on penalty kicks. Someone has to lose, though.”
The skies opened up over the Gordon College field as the clock ticked down during the second of two 10-minute, sudden-death overtime periods. The weather combined with each team’s fatigue and conservative approach to overtime to make it increasingly clear that the game was destined for penalty kicks.
And after a relatively uneventful overtime, the respective seasons for each squad were to be determined by five kicks apiece.
When Gloucester goalkeeper Liz McCormack turned away Melrose’s first attempt, it seemed the Fishermen were in golden position. But Fishermen midfielder Elle Wierbicky’s attempt rang off the post, and the two teams were back to square one.
Melrose striker Olivia Downey and Giacalone traded goals in the second round to keep things square.
In the third and fourth rounds of shooters, though, Melrose sent each of its attempts wide to the right of the net, and the Fishermen took full advantage, as Cook and Orrell each buried their attempts.
By the time Orrell was chased down by her teammates after clinching the win, the Fishermen knew they had survived a scare.
“That was crazy,” Giacalone said. “It was awesome. Penalty kicks are crazy. I have all respect for goalies for doing that, I don’t understand how they do it.”
“There’s no need to freak out during penalty kicks,” White added. “It’s basically a crapshoot. Kicks are the worst. Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not, and today we were lucky.”
It’s a gut-wrenching way for the Red Raiders’ season to end, especially considering how evenly-played yesterday’s game was.
The first half was largely uneventful, as neither team seemed willing to commit numbers to the offensive attack. Instead, both teams settled in a defensive shell and kept most shots to the perimeter.
But Melrose found a rhythm late in the first half, pinning the Fishermen in their defensive end for the end of the segment, and while they didn’t score, the Red Raiders carried momentum into halftime.
They rode that wave into the second half, when they found Downey in transition just three minutes into the half. She split two Gloucester defenders and approached McCormack uncontested before burying the game’s first goal.
From there, the Fishermen woke up. As has been the case often this season, they were forced to battle back from a slow start.
It was clear, though, that they were comfortable battling back. Gloucester imposed its will on Melrose, forcing the ball toward the Red Raider goal. And the pressure paid off when Cook and Orrell bullied their way up the middle of the field midway through the second half before Orrell slipped a pass to Giacalone in the penalty box.
Giacalone fought off a defender and flicked it past Melrose goalkeeper Ashley Baldwin to knot the game at 1-1.
“We tried to talk about it at halftime,” White said. “It looked like Melrose was doing some good things toward the end of the first half there. We just came out of halftime a little flat. Give it to Melrose, they wanted it more at the beginning of the second half. It did wake us up a little bit, so it was good and bad.
“Once we relaxed and realized, ‘Oh, wait, we can score. I forgot,” it helped us a little bit.”
The game’s remaining 26 minutes kept the crowd on its feet. Gloucester kept the pressure on Melrose as it looked for the go-ahead goal. But the Red Raiders withstood that pressure and eventually tilted the field back in their direction with some pressure of their own.
When all was said and done, the teams combined for 33 shots and 18 fouls in the hard-fought, physical contest.
As they did throughout the final month of the season, though, the Fishermen found a way to win, earning themselves a chance to take on CAL North champion Hamilton-Wenham Sunday at 2 at Hamilton-Wenham. The Generals earned a first-round bye after going 13-1-2 in the grueling CAL.
“We played them in the preseason,” White said. “They have a strong, physical team and they play in a good CAL Large group, so it’s going to be a battle on Sunday, for sure.”
With the never-say-die nature of the Fishermen, you never know what could happen.
“I’m thinking that with the kind of heart that we played with,” Giacalone said, “that even though we might not be as good as Hamilton-Wenham, I think we can do it.”