PITTSFIELD -- After a opening-game loss in the Girls National High School Rugby Championship that wasn't close, the Berkshire United girls rugby team produced a much-improved performance in its second game only to lose in the final agonizing seconds.
Although Berkshire was defeated twice, its 24-22 loss to State College, Pa., following a 47-0 drubbing by the Lady Mad Dogs of Kingston, N.Y., was an encouraging sign to coaches Dave Colli and Luke Bloom, who said they were pleased with how the team responded following the opening loss.
"Our goal for this entire endeavor was to get exposed to a higher level of competition, because we feel that's the only way we'll get better," Bloom said. "For these guys to come out and compete against the top-level competition in the country, and improve the way they did, it's amazing."
Opening-game jitters got the best of Berkshire against the Lady Mad Dogs, who completely controlled the game from beginning to end. Poor Berkshire tackling led to long runs from the Lady Mad Dogs with Julia Rich accounting for four of Kingston's seven tries.
In the second game, however, Berkshire looked more relaxed and energized, jumping to an early 5-0 lead when Haley Korte converted a try on the left side early in the half. The kick failed to keep it at 5-0.
Berkshire improved its tackling in the second game, but when they did miss, State College was quick to take advantage of it.
State College methodically answered Berkshire's score, driving down the field and scoring its first try to tie the game at 5. After State College received the ensuing kick, Berkshire did a good job of tackling -- including a try-saving tackle from Geneeva LeSage that forced the ballcarrier to give up the ball -- but State College's ability to pitch, catch and run eventually led to a long run up the middle for its second try. A good kick put State College ahead 12-5. Still, LeSage's big hit seemed to inspire Berkshire.
"I love tackling," LeSage said. "It's probably my best [skill]. I wrestle, too, so I incorporate that in my tackling."
Berkshire then went on an impressive 17-0, converting three tries and a good kick.
Korte started the scoring by juking a defender along the right sideline and converting. LeSage was next, breaking into the open field to score after scooping up the ball out of a ruck. Korte capped the scoring spree when she stripped the ball from a State College defender and sprinted down the left sideline to convert. That put Berkshire up 22-12.
That was the last time Berkshire scored, however, as State College closed on a 12-0 run, making the winning kick as time expired.
Berkshire's Rachael Ndiembolio proved strong running and tackling after sitting out the first half with an injury. Mya Eugene also ran powerfully with the ball.
"I just came out there to play rugby, be physical and focus," Ndiembolio said. "Since we didn't win the first game, we had nothing to lose -- no regrets. We went out there and played our hardest and that's all you can really ask for."
Berkshire will look to finish the weekend with a win when it takes on the New York Rugby Club in the seventh-place game at 8:30 a.m. this morning.
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