Nashoba Wins, Will Play for a State Title
STURBRIDGE -- With the way Nashoba Regional has captured title after title over the last decade or so, the one trophy that has eluded the school comes in the sport of field hockey. And, sure, the Chieftains have been plenty successful, capturing the Central Mass. titles in 2014 and 2015.
But the state title has been the McGuffin, the one that has just been out of their grasps.
Nashoba will get another chance, for the first time since 2014, at the state crown this weekend as the Chieftains scored early and often -- two goals by Emily Spallone were enough to move on -- en route to a 4-0 win over Western Mass. champion Longmeadow in Tuesday’s Division 1 state semifinal at Tantasqua Regional High School.
Nashoba (20-0-2) will advance to Saturday’s state final against Eastern Mass. champion Somerset Berkley at WPI at a time yet to be announced. Longmeadow’s season came to its conclusion at 17-2-2.
As per usual, longtime Nashoba head coach Jamie Mariani was pumped at the opportunity to get to the next level.
“I can’t even begin to -- this is absolutely amazing,” Mariani said. “These kids just played with their heart tonight. They went all-out. They were determined, they went after it right from the start.
“Honestly, (getting to the state final) was one of their goals: Once we started the tournament, win Central Mass., win states. These kids really wanted it, and we’ve been practicing really hard, and we’re all-in. I’ve said it over and over again, our starters to our bench players, everyone’s going for this. Our defense was strong, our midfield ... yeah, we’ll focus on Somerset, and we’ll be ready for them. I’m super excited, and I know (the girls) are, too”
Imposing their will en route to eight first-half shots, the Chieftains opened the scoring 14:47 in, as Spallone, with the cage open to the right of Longmeadow goaltender Gabrielle Acquista, guided Maddy Zacchini’s bounding cross right in. Zacchini had used a nifty spin move to break ankles in the seconds before her initial pass caromed through the circle, and with Spallone fighting her way to the cage, that got the Central Mass. champions one foot into WPI.
“I was just there on rebound; that’s what we practice,” Spallone said. “I lightly tapped it because one was there and it just went in.”
“That’s one of the things we key on,” Mariani said. “Come out and be the first ones to put a goal on the board.
″(Zacchini’s) spin was huge. She has excellent stick-work, and she keeps her stick low to the ground.”
In that first quarter-hour, Nashoba had difficulty in breaking through as it found itself harassed by Longmeadow junior Ashley Barron, who was all over the place for the Lancers.
The Lancers would, however, have a solid chance with four minutes to go in the first half, only to find Caylie McMahon and the Nashoba defense combining forces to deny Longmeadow.
Two minutes later, Barron ripped a shot off a corner that deflected toward the open cage. But McMahon, with cat-like reflexes, dove and denied the goal, keeping Longmeadow off the board.
Nashoba doubled its advantage early in the second half as Spallone tapped in Brown’s helper, thanks to some nifty defense at the other end.
“I basically saw the ball was trickling in,” Spallone explained, “and I just ran up and got my stick on it to make sure it went in. I just work on keeping my stick on the ground. My mom is always on me about keeping my stick on the ground.
“I’m always ready to guide the ball in the net.”
But four minutes later, the Chieftains tripled it, as Lauren Hill tapped in the rebound of a shot off to the side.
“We just played our game,” Mariani said. “The ball moved a little quick tonight.”
Gigi Fay wrapped it up on a penalty corner late in the contest.