Elliot scores twice to lift Lenox girls soccer back into Western Mass. D-IV championship game
HOLYOKE — Like any good freshman, Lenox's Mary Elliot took the pitch at Holyoke High School on Wednesday night with one idea in mind — don't let down the seniors.
Elliot did not let down her seniors.
The diminutive freshman struck twice inside the final five minutes of the first half against No. 2 Ware, and the two tallies stood up as the No. 3 Millionaires advanced to the Western Massachusetts Division IV championship game for the second year in a row with a 2-0 win.
"It's crazy, it's unbelievable," Elliot said. "I can hardly believe it, what just happened. I was not expecting to help my team so much in such an important tournament game."
The first goal came with just under four to play in the half. Senior Nicole Gamberoni started the sequence with a through ball right through the middle of the Ware defense. Elliot got onto the end of the ball, but her initial shot was saved by Abigail Hayman. Hayman, though, could only parry the ball up, and Elliot watched the trajectory, followed it up and tapped home for the opener.
"When the goalie came out and found the ball, I just knew I had to be there no matter what," Elliot said. "So I followed it, because I wanted to be there if there was a chance to get it in the net."
The second came with about 30 seconds remaining in the half. This time, it was another senior who started the sequence.
Striker Shelby Lynch pressured a Ware defender near the Indians' corner flag. Lynch won the ball back, then squared a pass into the 18-yard box. Elliot again got on the end of the pass, and with traffic all around her Elliot sized up the opportunity, took a touch to get a better angle then slotted home for the insurance tally.
The goals helped Lenox avoid what had become tradition in recent Western Mass. semifinals — penalty kicks. Lenox defeated Gateway on PKs in the 2017 semifinals at Holyoke, and had beaten Gateway in 2015 on semifinal PKs.
"We definitely prepared for PKs, but we are super happy that we didn't have to go to PKs," Gamberoni said. "I felt as though the team had a big weight taken off of our chest when Mary scored that second one, just to give us a little more of a lead."
In the second half, Lenox goalie Sophie Patella was called into action about five minutes in to save a header on a Ware corner kick, but other than that, Patella (5 saves) had little work to do as her defense of Zenani Santos, Paige Looney, Katherine Nichols and Taylor Knight kept a previously unbeaten Indians (17-1-1) attack in check.
"[Ware plays] a very offensive-minded formation, they like to push a lot of girls forward," Lenox coach Kyle Zinchuk said, "so the fact that our defense was able to deal with that for the entire game and keep them off the board says a lot about Nani and Kat and Taylor and Paige across the back. Really good communication tonight, really good job covering for each other."
With the win, Lenox sets up a rematch in the D-IV finals. The Millionaires fell to Granby in last year's title game 5-1, and will see the Rams again this year after Granby defeated Gateway 2-0 in the second semifinal at Holyoke on Wednesday.
The Millionaires know they have their work cut out for them to try and turn around last year's decision, but the team is reveling in the chance to get another opportunity.
"It feels amazing to be able to be there for your team and really contribute and do everything that you can, because we have so many seniors on our team this year, and this is their last shot," Elliot said. "They are so talented, they deserve a team that will be there for them and get those shots and put in the effort."
Information on the date and time for the championship game was unknown at press deadline.
Lenox 2 0 — 2
Ware 0 0 — 0
L — Mary Elliot (Nicole Gamberoni), 36:05. L — Elliot (Shelby Lynch), 39:30.
Saves — W: Abigail Hayman 9. L: Sophie Patella 5.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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