CHICOPEE -- The first time Lenox goalkeeper Kathy Prescott saw Alessandra Arace run a sprint in practice, the freshman grabbed her attention.
"We all just stopped and were like ‘Oh my God. She's fast,' " Prescott said. "It's true. It's so funny to watch her up top. There's balls you're like ‘Oh, it's out of bounds,' and suddenly she has the ball."
It was a ball just like that from Hayden Zinchuk that Arace ran down 25 minutes into Saturday's Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal against Granby. With just Rams goalkeeper Brittney Hauschild to beat, Arace calmly drove the ball home for the only goal in a 1-0 Millionaires victory at Szot Park.
"She gave me a perfect ball that I could finish," Arace said. "I just took a couple touches and placed it in the side. I was really happy. Happiest I've been all season."
The No. 4 Rams (17-1-1) had no one who could keep up with Arace, bringing their season to an end one round short of the Western Mass. final. Top-seeded Lenox (13-4-2) heads back to Westfield State Univ ersity a year after winning the sectional crown with an identical 1-0 win over Granby. The championship match against Gateway is set for 11 a.m. Monday.
While the 2011 Millionaires were expected to be playing on the tournament's final day, the 2012 squad was a bit of an underdog pick -- even more so after losing leading scorer Jen Delasco to a broken collarbone late in the regular season.
"Not to take anything away from last year's team, but in a way this feels better than I felt winning the finals last year because I know how far we've come," said Lenox coach Matt Cote. "... We started the season, none of us really knew where we'd end up. We were hoping. We were very hopeful. I tell you what, as the season progressed, everything started clicking together and here we are.
"Because of the buildup, because of that progression, it feels real, real special."
Getting to the final was a nerve-wracking experience for Cote and his team. Granby applied pressure from the start, forcing Prescott to scoop the ball away from an on-rushing Rachel Mick early. The senior keeper survived a penalty kick that Alex White blasted off the bar with 21 minutes to play and made one of her 10 saves on a quick free kick with four minutes left.
"I wasn't completely prepared for it, but Wahconah did that to us early in the season," Prescott said. "I was kind of expecting it. Luckily I was in the right place trying to set up my wall."
The Millionaires pressed hard for a second goal and came close several times. Arace outran any defender on long balls and counters downfield, leaving her streaking down the wing untouched. Hauschild made a couple stops to keep Granby in it, but the Rams also got lucky when Arace's crosses couldn't connect with anyone in the middle.
The freshman was like a safety valve, always relieving the pressure when Granby tried to push forward. The Rams' second-half chances were mostly on set pieces, particularly the penalty kick and quick free kick.
"[Arace's] a great player," said Granby coach Nick Boorman as he stepped onto the team bus. "She's going to do well. She's got some more years."
That conclusion is nothing but bad news for the rest of Western Mass.
"I'd hate to be on the other side of the ball against her," Cote said. "I really would. She's tremendous."
Lenox 1 0 -- 1
Granby 0 0 -- 0
L -- Alessandra Arace (Hayden Zinchuk), 25:03.
Saves -- L: Kathy Prescott 10; G: Brittney Hauschild 9.