WMass D-III soccer: Aubrey Blanchard scores in OT as Monument eliminates Monson
HOLYOKE — When Molly Flynn went up facing backwards for a header just inside midfield, she only barely saw Aubrey Blanchard in her periphery. She was filled with a sense of confidence that permeates every inch of the Monument Mountain girls soccer program.
From head coach Jess Platt on through rookie sophomore goalkeeper Helen Pajeski, confidence is a pervasive quality with the Lady Spartans. Flynn was confident Blanchard would be were she needed to be, and once the junior forward gathered the ball, she was confident the Spartans speedster would finish things off.
"Aubrey is always there when you need her to be. I just kind of knew she would be there. As soon as she got that ball I knew she was going to put it away," said Flynn. "She has that kind of thing in her. Our team plays that way. We know we can score when we need to score."
Blanchard took her time, facing down Monson goalkeeper Hannah Garon, before blasting a top-shelf shot into the back of the net, ending the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal midway through the first overtime period.
Three-seed Monument advances to the tournament final against No. 1 South Hadley at Westfield State University on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
"We just wanted to put one away, just keep plugging away until one goes in," said Blanchard. "Keep pressing hard and playing Monument soccer. I just wanted to put that one in the back of the net for my teammates, who have been there through everything for me. It just meant the world for me to put that in there for them and show that I want to play one more game on this field with them."
Despite giving away a 1-0 lead with 24 minutes and four seconds left in regulation, the Spartans never panicked. Not after standout center-back Gabi DeFelice went to the sidelines for a spell with a head injury late in the first half, and not when Monson star Lily Fabian got bumped into the box and beat Pajeski one-on-one to even things up after Monument dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
"We're trained to never give up. We always fight through every situation, it doesn't matter what comes up," said senior defensive captain Masho McAllister. "We all work together as a team no matter what."
Fabian's equalizer could have easily shifted momentum in favor of the defending Division IV state champion Mustangs, but Pajeski hung strong behind a stout back line. She made an athletic chase-down stop minutes after the goal. Later, she came away with a monster save that snuffed out a one-on-on opportunity for Shannon Jalbert with 17:50 remaining.
"That was huge, there's nothing like a big save to get things pumped up for your team again. She really added to our momentum at the end of the second half there," said Platt. "We were amped up from that for sure."
The Spartans couldn't get their own offense back on track after a Flynn goal on a beauty of a give-and-go by Zufan Bazzano put them ahead 1-0, just 12:28 into the game.
"We've been working on those a lot this season and that was the perfect set up, I just kind of shot the ball in," said Flynn. "Zufan had a perfect play there, it was awesome."
That confidence never wavered, though, as regulation came to a close with a pair of long-range shots from Meri Powell gobbled up by Goran.
"Our game plan didn't change, just don't doubt ourselves and keep playing Monument soccer and see what happens," said Platt of the overtime message.
Bazzano took the first run of extra time to the end line, but the result was a goal kick that in turn saw Fabian dust the outside of the post at the other end. The sides traded long-range free kicks from midfield, before Pajeski punted deep to start Blanchard's game-winning run.
"We wanted to get it over with as soon as possible," said Flynn. "We wanted to get the job done as soon as we could."
"We knew this game was ours. We needed to fight through and do what we can do," added McAllister.
Blanchard, a state qualifier in outdoor track, went from by Flynn's side to inside the goalie box in an instant and had time to catch a breath before doing what all the girls in matching maroon knew was about to happen.
"It feels great. Really proud of the girls, they played with tons of heart," said Platt. "When the game got tied up, we've come back from deficits and ties to win all season long. It's something that doesn't get us mentally out of the game. We just keep pushing."
Monument Mountain 1 0 1 — 2
Monson 0 1 0 — 1
MM — Molly Flynn (Zufan Bazzano), 12:18.
M — Lily Fabian (Amanda Dee), 51:56.
MM — Aubrey Blanchard (Flynn), 85:30.
Saves — MM: Helen Pajeski, 6. M: Hannah Garon, 4.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter or 413-496-6240.
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