As it arrived in North Andover for the 2009 Division 2 North final, the Manchester Essex field hockey team had plenty of experience on its side, a benefit of having reached the same game in the previous two seasons.
The bad news for the Hornets? The Watertown team that awaited them had the same exact experience. Even worse? The Red Raiders had topped Manchester Essex in the previous contest.
That night proved no different for the Hornets, as the Watertown powerhouse managed to hand the Hornets a new level of heartache with a last-minute, 2-1 victory.
In the previous year’s matchup, the Hornets had taken a 1-0 lead into halftime only to see their lead disappear before eventually folding in a double overtime thriller.
Such a sudden death, season-ending loss is tough to take. The fashion in which the Red Raiders took home their second consecutive Division 2 North title over Manchester Essex, though, took the cake.
After again giving away an early lead, the Hornets appeared destined for another overtime battle as the second half wound down with the score knotted at 1-1. That was, however, until Watertown coach Eileen Donahue called a timeout after her team was awarded a penalty corner with just seconds to play.
The Red Raiders capitalized, changing their corner strategy from earlier in the game and opting for a tricky passing play rather than a quick shot. The ball ended up on Erika Kelly’s stick, who buried the game-winner with 17 seconds on the clock to once again sink the Hornets’ season in gut-wrenching fashion.
“It’s never easy against Watertown and they showed why they are a powerhouse again,” Hornets coach Pam Grant said that night. “It was anyone’s game, if we had pulled it out nobody could have said we got lucky, and the same can be said for Watertown.”
Grant’s comments are testament to the kind of game this was for the unbeaten Hornets. After a back-and-forth, defensive-minded first half, the Hornets were able to find the back of the net when senior captains Amelia Burke and Katie Gavin connected for a pretty one-time goal with four minutes left before halftime. As Burke ran toward the net, Gavin threaded a cross-field pass to her senior counterpart. Burke didn’t falter.
The Hornets held that lead -- and momentum -- until the game’s final seven minutes. But after the Hornets had several quality scoring chances turned away, the Red Raiders finally found a way to get past Hornet goalie Vicky Grimes with 6:56 to play on a quick shot off a penalty corner.
That set up the storybook ending for Watertown, when the risky strategy change sent the Red Raiders back to the Division 2 title game and left the Hornets reeling. Again.
The following season, the Hornets would head back to the Division 2 North title game. Again, the Red Raiders awaited. And again, Watertown moved on with a 2-1 victory.
If nothing more, the Red Raiders’ dynasty could simply be chalked up to a great run for a great program. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they established themselves as the lesser of the North’s two dominant programs at the time.
As that game in 2009 made clear, though, the Hornets were never far off. Not that that made the losses any easier to stomach. Particularly this one.
“It never gets any easier to deal with a tough loss like this but the girls fought hard to the end,” Grant said.