WESTFIELD -- Josie Marshall had to pause for a minute.
The adrenaline was still wearing off for the Lenox junior. Here she was on the field at Westfield State University as a Western Massachusetts Division III champion for the second straight year.
"I mean, I can’t even explain it," she said. "We worked our whole season. I’ve never seen a team improve so much together. We do well when we communicate and work together. This is all we wanted."
Marshall’s goal and assist from her perch in midfield gave the Millionaires the Western Mass. title with a 2-0 win over Gateway Regional on Monday. It was a victory that seemed unlikely just a couple weeks ago when leading scorer Jen Delasco went down with a broken collarbone. But contributions from Alessandra Arace -- who scored one goal and set up another on Monday -- as well as Marshall and eighth-grader Tova Brown kept the No. 1 Millionaires (14-4-2) rolling. They’re now headed back to Wednesday’s state semifinals against Sutton back in Westfield. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
"Everyone, they started to rally around not just Jen. They started to rally around each other, which is really good," said Lenox coach Matt Cote.
It was an Arace run that started the scoring against No. 6 Gateway (12-5-3). Sprinting down the wing like she did in the semifinal win over Granby, she forced Gateway’s Jessie Walton to just clear the ball over the end line with a last-gasp jab of her foot in the 15th minute.
Lenox had already had a pair of corners in the first 10 minutes, with Gators keeper Brooke Fairman scooping the first out of the air. This time Allie Connell floated a long ball across the box. It bounded to Marshall, who finished cleanly for the 1-0 lead.
"At first I thought Hayden [Zinchuk] was going to get it with her head," Marshall said. "But it came right to my foot. It was a perfect serve and all I could do was put it in."
Lenox controlled the midfield for most of the game, allowing Brown and Arace to make run after run at Fairman, who had 15 saves. It was a ball put through to Arace from Marshall that made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. The freshman may not have been able to blow by defenders the way she did against Granby, but she still flustered Gateway into rushing clears.
"The defenders today were a lot faster," Arace said. "They tend to catch up to me, but I still got to the end line and put crosses in."
Gateway’s best opportunity came from a small dose of pressure late in the first half. The ball squirted to Jamie Pease in the middle of the box, allowing her to rip a close-range shot at Kathy Prescott. The Lenox keeper juggled the ball briefly before hanging on. The Gators’ ball movement was pretty limited after that.
"We just weren’t able to get it outside to make our crosses and get it in the middle," Pease said. "That’s where we struggled."
Much of the credit for that goes to Zinchuk and Marshall, who held the ball with ease in the midfield. It’s all the Millionaires needed to get a second go-around in the state semifinals after last year’s loss to Hopedale.
"The beginning of the season we had low expectations," Zinchuk said. "We were just going to say, ‘Let’s see how far we can come.’ To be here, I can’t even believe we did it."
Lenox 1, Gateway 0
Lenox 1 0 -- 1
Gateway 0 0 -- 0
L -- Josie Marshall (Allie Connell), 14:26.
L -- Alessandra Arace (Marshall), 51:23.
Saves -- L: Kathy Prescott 5; G: Brooke Fairman 15.