By Nick Curcuru Sports Editor
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — HAMILTON-- Regulation and two overtime periods wasn’t enough time to settle the score in Sunday’s Division 2 North First Round girls soccer clash between No. 2 Hamilton-Wenham and No. 15 Gloucester at Hamilton-Wenham High School.
After 100 minutes of back and forth, physical, knock ‘em down drag ‘em out soccer, the score was knotted at one goal a piece and the teams needed penalty kicks to decide a winner.
While the Fishermen have already experienced success in the unpredictable world of penalty kicks, winning Friday’s Division 2 North Preliminary round match against No. 18 Melrose, they didn’t have the same good fortune on Sunday.
The Generals were a perfect three-for-three in penalty kicks while Gloucester connected on just one of four attempts. When Hamilton-Wenham goalie Taylor Morong swatted away Gloucester’s fourth penalty kick it sealed a win for the Cape Ann League Large champs and a spot in the Division 2 North Quarter Finals. Hamilton-Wenham (14-1-2) will meet No. 10 Stoneham in the Quarter Finals Tuesday at Hamilton-Wenham High School (2:00 p.m.), Gloucester’s season comes to an end at 9-7-3.
“We scouted Gloucester on Friday against Melrose and we know we were going to have our hands full with them,” Generals head coach Alvi Ibanez said. “And as everybody saw we did have a tough time. It was a great game, I think the difference in the end was our defense. We made a few nice adjustments and we were able to contain their strong forwards.”
From start to finish physicality was at a premium. While both teams kept the physical play clean, neither team was willing to give an inch and were willing to sacrifice their bodies for every piece of the field.
“That’s just the state tournament,” Ibanez said. “Every tackle is harder this time of year, every pass is harder and every shot is harder. There was a good crowd that got both teams playing hard and that’s what happens. Both teams played their hearts out this afternoon.”
Gloucester head coach Alex White praised her team’s physicality, as it’s usually not her team’s strength.
“We rose to the challenge,” White said of her team’s physical play. “I told them before the game everybody things they don’t want to be pushed around and they don’t like that style of play but the girls made sure they weren’t going to lose the physical battle today.”
After a back and forth first 20 minutes of play it was Gloucester that struck first in the 26th minute when Bianca Giacalone fielded a long ball, beat a Generals defender and went in all alone on Morong finishing the job and giving Gloucester a 1-0 lead.
That lead would end up standing for a while despite the efforts of Hamilton-Wenham late in the first and throughout the second half.
Generals striker Alana Vecchiarello had several opportunities in the first and second half but Gloucester’s Elle Wierbicky, whom White labeled the “MVP of the game” battled the opponents leading scorer every step of the way keeping her off the scoreboard.
Gloucester went into the half with a 1-0 lead but the Generals came out on a mission to tie the score in the second half. The eventual victors had four close calls in the first 10 minutes of the second half and continued to pressure the Gloucester defense over the final 40 minutes of regulation.
The Generals’ hard work finally paid off with 11 minutes to play in regulation when a throw-in bounced off the heads of two players in the box right to Caroline Gribbell, who put a left-footed shot just inside the left post to tie the score at 1-1.
“That was our pride kicking in,” Ibanez said. “We were down 1-0 at the half at home and we didn’t want to go out like that. We put an extra player at striker and risked putting just three players in the midfield. We were down and we needed to get aggressive and it worked.”
The teams remained tied through overtime, which featured more back and forth physical action until the Generals sealed the win on penalty kicks.
White was quick to credit her teams effort not just on the afternoon, but the season as a while. After starting 0-4-2 Gloucester rattled off an 8-2-1 record down the stretch to get into the post season.
“It was an up and down year and we had moments where nobody thought we would get here and give a great team like Hamilton-Wenham a game,” White said. “But the girls played their hearts out and proved that they can play with anybody.”