WEST SPRINGFIELD — Wahconah coach Pat West sensed that there was something off with his Warriors team in their Western Mass. Division III semifinal against Southwick.
He couldn't put his finger on it in the first half, couldn't explain it when his team went a goal up in the second half, and in the end he was left a bit flabbergasted because of it, as his No. 2 Warriors fell to No. 3 Southwick, 2-1, at Clark Field Thursday night.
"If we played nine times out of 10 on a night like this, we would have played better," West said. "All night long I felt like there was a little bit of sleepiness going on. I said to them, [that] I wish I could have pin-pointed it — we could have stirred it and solved it."
Instead, the Warriors are left to stir their emotions after coming one game shy of being able to defend their Division III crown.
"The girls are hurt," West said. "They wanted to win. It just wasn't in the cards tonight. Things weren't working for them. I bet if you ask every kid on the team they couldn't explain it, but they could see it."
Wahconah came out as the better of the two sides in the first half and if not for some timely interventions from Tori Richburg in the Rams' goal, Arden McKnight might have found herself a first-half hat trick. But even through McKnight's chances, the Warriors couldn't find that gear to get them over the hump.
In the second half the Warriors thought they found it. Two minutes in, McKnight finally got herself on the board when she converted a pass from Amelia Dougherty, kissing the inside of the right post on her shot that trickled by Richburg.
But the goal wasn't a galvanizing moment to drive the Warriors on. Rather, it was the exact moment when Southwick finally sprung to life.
"We put our heads down for a little bit," Southwick's Lydia Kinsman said. "But sometimes it just happens and you have to get your head back in the game and keep working hard. We did, and it was a great turnout."
Southwick's opportunities started growing. Sabrina Provost nearly got in one-on-one with Wahconah goalkeeper Kayla Kowalczyk, but a timely intervention from Sierra Howes kept the chance at bay. Provost then teed up Liz Tenerowicz, but Tenerowicz couldn't get her shot on frame.
Finally, with 21:19 left, Southwick got its opening.
On a scramble in the box, the referee awarded Southwick a penalty kick and gave Kowalczyk a yellow card after she was judged to have hauled down a Southwick player trying to jump for the ball. The card meant Kowalczyk had to come to the bench for the kick, forcing freshman Sage Howes to step in.
Provost made no mistake on the back-up, tucking her shot low and to the right to level the game.
"Goalies come out and get the ball all the time," West said of the play. "[The referee] claimed that because [Kowalczyk] didn't get the ball, it was a foul, and I'm going to leave it at that."
For the Rams, the moment proved to the girls that they could come all the way back.
The winner came with 2:12 to go. Sam Perusse created the chance when she couldn't free enough space for herself so instead she passed it to Kinsman. Kinsman, with the ball on her weaker left foot, decided that she didn't have time to try and get the ball into a better position to shoot.
"I didn't get a lot of chances during the game," Kinsman said. "That one, I took the ball with my left foot – I usually don't shoot with my left – and I just shot it to the bottom right. The goalie is great, I'm kind of surprised she didn't save that."
Kowalczyk finished with five saves in the loss, while Richburg had eight in the win. Wahconah ends its season with a 15-4-1 mark. Southwick now advances to the Western Mass. D-III championship game against Granby.
West was disappointed after the game, but still proud of what his Warriors accomplished over the course of the campaign.
"We just had a good year all the way around," West said. "We had played so well over the course of October and into November, we really thought we were going places here. It's still a strong team. We just had a bad night."
W—McKnight (Dougherty), 52:01. S—Mello (PK), 58:31. S—Kinsman (Perusse), 77:48.
Saves – W: Kowalczyk 5. S: Richburg 8.