Anybody who has watched the Derek Dane-coached Londonderry High School girls’ varsity soccer teams play during his tenure at the school knows there’s never any reason to question the Lady Lancers’ dedication or ability to execute in fundamentally-sound fashion. But alas, the ladies still seek their first state championship, falling just short again this past Sunday.
The Lancers showed both their determination and their mettle in playing a pair of late-round tournament matches in the last week that both went to penalty kicks. The LHS crew won the first – in semifinal-round action against Manchester Central – but had the second get away to Pinkerton Academy’s Lady Astros in a 1-0 decision in the Division I championship match at Exeter High School on Sunday, Nov. 8.
The third-seeded Lady Lancers – who excelled at keeping the opposition from scoring while also struggling with scoring goals themselves this fall – disposed of second-ranked Manchester Central in the semifinal in Nashua Thursday, Nov. 5, thanks to their success with penalty kicks.
But the locals’ hopes of bagging the first state title in LHS girls’ varsity soccer history evaporated in the penalty kick process against the top-seeded Pinkerton at Exeter High last weekend.
Arch-rival Pinkerton, which lost only one of its 19 matches this fall in claiming the first varsity title in its program’s history, potted four penalty kicks to Londonderry’s three in deciding a title game that went scoreless through 80 minutes of regulation time and then two 10-minute overtime stanzas.
Moments after his team accepted the Division I runner-up plaque, Dane spoke about his team’s effort in the exciting and well played championship match with Pinkerton.
“It was a fantastic match, and I’m absolutely proud of the girls,” he said. “Somebody asked me last week if I thought we’d be here in the championship match, and I said, ‘Absolutely, no.’ But we worked hard and we did get here, and as I told the girls, this was the last game played in New Hampshire this year, and there’s a lot to be proud of.”
The Lady Lancers and Lady Astros worked diligently to score goals in regulation time without recording a goal.
Depending upon what angle someone was standing or sitting at during the middle of the second half, there was either a controversial and unacknowledged goal or a great defensive play made when Londonderry’s junior midfielder Mackenzie Donovan lofted a corner kick from the left side of the field in the Pinkerton defensive zone toward the PA net.
There were fans standing next to the net who say they saw the ball go over the goal line and quickly get headed out by Pinkerton defender Keara Doolan, while people elsewhere in the stadium thought PA goalie Sammy Mitchell had knocked the ball away. But the play didn’t face any on-field scrutiny by the officials or coaches, and play continued in short order.
Pinkerton enjoyed advantages in shots on net in the first half (5-1) and the second (6-2) for a total tally of 11-3 shots on net in regulation time.
Londonderry was the stronger of the two squads during most of the two overtime stanzas, putting four shots on the PA cage to the Lady Astros’ one shot on the Londonderry net. But still the score sat unchanged.
During the shootout, the Lady Astros received scores from Courtney Velho, Catherine Goodwin, Reanna Romano, and Mel Roberge. But after Halle Hamilton and Samantha LeClair had potted shots in the first two rounds for Londonderry, PA keeper Mitchell saw the third LHS shooter clang a shot off the crossbar. And after four shooters had taken their attempts – with Lady Lancer Erin Barnes scoring in round four – the Lady Astros grasped a 4-3 lead.
Hence, if Pinkerton goalie Mitchell could stop the fifth LHS shooter, the Lady Astros would win the game and the championship. And that’s what happened, with the PA keeper making the save and sending her crew into a wild celebration.
Londonderry goalie Jackie Luckhardt made 11 saves in regulation time and one more in overtime before the decisive penalty kicks rolled around.
Luckhardt and the Lady Lancers advanced to their program’s third state championship match – the first two were in 2002 and 2010 and Londonderry lost both – by besting second-seeded Central on penalty kicks in a semifinal-round tourney battle played at Nashua’s Stellos Stadium Nov. 5.
The LHS star goalie made 20 stops in that clipping of Central, in which the opposing teams each potted one goal before overtime action and then the shootout.
The match was scoreless in the first half, but Central snared a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute of play.
However, the Londonderry crew didn’t trail for long, knotting the score at 1-1 a mere 30 seconds after the Central celebration ended. Katrina Rivard set up Laurel Goding for that equalizer, and 1-1 was where the game tally stood until penalty kicks were required.
“We created enough chances in regulation time to win it,” said Dane. “We had one cleared off the line in the first half, their keeper made two huge saves from point-blank range, and we hit the crossbar off a corner. I was especially pleased by our immediate response when they scored. I mean, within a minute of them scoring, we equalized. And our defense stood tall and battled from start to finish.”
But when it was time for PK’s, only a goalie and one shooter at a time stood up to decide which squad would go on to the D-I finals. And in the eight shooting rounds that were required, Londonderry got scores from Hamilton, LeClair, Barnes, Donovan, Sammi Lecaroz, and Isabella Bourque in helping their team to a 6-5 edging of Central’s shooters, with keeper Luckhardt making three big saves.
“We have practiced penalties for a few weeks and had agreed on a list of seven kickers in practice yesterday,” said Dane. “When the time came, some unlikely heroes like Sammy LeClair, Sammi Lecaroz, and Izzy Bourque accepted the responsibility, stepped up, and finished the job.”
But the Lady Lancers would face another shootout several days later, and the results weren’t quite so pleasing.