The fall tourney trail hit a few cold spots along the way
Ah, there’s nothing like the Fall High School Tourney Trail.
It never goes cold – but it gets cold.
As we have done after every high school season comes to a close, we’ll give you one scribe’s tour through the tournament action that he personally witnessed.
Remember, this isn’t a review of all the local tourney action, just one scribe’s own personal diary of the events. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy a few of the observations and anecdotes of the events.
TUESDAY, OCT. 22
The trail begins, not surprisingly, at Stellos Stadium to see the Bishop Guertin field hockey team top Bedford, 3-1, in the Division I preliminary round. Guertin and Bedford always seem to meet in postseason games in various sports one way or the other, don’t they? But in this one in a constant drizzle, Guertin wasn’t able to breathe easy until Stephanie Coloumbe scored an insurance goal with 1:27 left.
BG coach Steve Duprat gathered his team right after to fire them up for what would be a daunting quarterfinal task at Winnacunet. “I just think if we work hard, we’ll be fine,” Cards forward Brooke Yabroudy said. And she was right, as the upset the Warriors three days later before falling in the semis.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 30
The Tourney Trail had a week in between stops, as sports postseaons are staggered in the fall. But this was pretty much history, as Nashua North and South were meeting in a Division I boys soccer tourney game for the first time ever, also at Stellos Stadium. But the result was the same as the regular season, a 4-1 South win. This time Jacob Dukeshire was the hero for the Panthers, with two first-half goals. You see, at the start of the preseason, South coach Tom Bellen told his players they would not lose in the first round like they had in previous seasons. He was right. But also after the game, North coach Josh Downing bemoaned having to say good-bye to his seniors. “The winning and the losing, as important as that is, for me is having coached these seniors, a lot of them, all through Pennichuck (Junior High), because I coached there prior to this, and the four years (at North). So I’ve been coaching these guys for eight plus years. That’s the part I’m going to miss.”
And that’s the emotion that goes with these teams that a lot of us who don’t coach tend to forget. The Titans had a few good first half chances that might have made a difference, but this was a coming out part for South backup goalie Elliot Mason. South went on to feel heartbreak themselves, losing to Windham in the quarters in penalty kicks. Ouch.
THURSDAY, OCT. 31
Happy Halloween, except with rain and wind in the forecast, Nashua postponed trick-or-treat until the weekend. However, it was a treat for soccer lovers at Stellos with a girls Division I preliminary round doubleheader. In the first game, the heartbreak of penalty kicks hit the Nashua South squad as they were upset 2-1 by Goffstown. The irony iin this game is two goals, one each, were scored in the game’s first five minutes, then nothing after that until the penalty kick phase. And No. 10 Goffstown came out on top with a perfect 5 for 5 showing in the PK round to upset the No. 7 Panthers. Tough way for South, which had a great season under first year head coach Lauren Keating, to go out.
“It’s a tough way to lose for sure,” Keating said. “Nobody wants it to get to that point.”
Game Two: Bishop Guertin 3, Alvirne 0. Once again, the same score as the teams’ regular season meeting. This was a physical game, but the Cards had won those kinds of battles all year, and this was no different. An early goal by Brooke Paquette, just 1:27 in, set the tone. It was great to see two area teams battle against each other in a post season setting for the second time in 24 hours. “Obviously if you score early that changes the dynamc,” said Guertin’s Pat Mulcahy. Hats off to Alvirne under first year coach Jerry Ruigrok in making the tourney after missing the party a year ago.
SUNDAY, NOV. 3
Yes, back at Stellos, this time for the Divison I girls soccer quarterfinals, with BG taking on Manchester Central. This was probably the most physical girls soccer game these eyes have seen – a tense, highly competitive affair won by BG.
This might have been the busiest event of the Trail. First, the Cards had not one, but two goals disallowed for goalie interference. The first one, maybe; the second one, sure looked like a bad call.
Second, Mulcahy, who always has, shall we say, constructive suggestions for officials during games, got a little too constructive and received a yellow card.
Third, poor Guertin AD Pete Paladino. For some reason there were no ball girls or boys to chase the errant balls, and he was hoofing it up and down the sidelines, and we have to tell you, his face looked a little red toward the end. Next time, let’s get a JV kid to take one side and another for across the way.
Fourth, the star of the game was no one who played, or even on the field. Nope, it was BG assistant AD Steve Duprat’s wife Megan, who made an unbelievable buffalo chicken dip for the sideline crew, Of course the media partook in the goodies. It was out of this world. And no, amazingly we weren’t invited for Thanksgiving but we’re sure that was served as an appetizer.
Oh, Guertin won the hard-fought game 2-1, suriviving a Central free kick with about 30 seconds left that bounced off the BG defensive wall. Amazing. “Our girls were just mentally tough and they responded well,” Mulcahy said.
Afterward came the eternal search for Central coach Peter Lally for his comments. Nope, nowhere to be found. “It was just too tough, I couldn’t,” Lally said.
We’ll tell you why as you read further.
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 6
Ah, what would a Fall Tourney Trail be without a chilly stop at Laconia’s Bank of New Hampshire Stadium? That’s where the Divison III top seeded Campbell boys soccer team would be taking on No. 5 Mascoma Valley in the semifinals. What was supposed to be a 6 p.m. game ended up starting close to 7:30; game times were moved back a half hour due to a Unified soccer tourney game, but then the first semi between Hopkinton and Mascenic went to penalty kicks, delaying things even further. And colder.
But Campbell pulled out a solid 2-0 win, with Joaquin Heller scoring the only goal the Cougars would need in the game’s first 10 minutes.
But the amazing story of this Campbell team the last couple of years is the faith and respect the players have had for their coach, Bill Miller, who keeps them mentally engaged through an entire season – and that’s not easy. As Heller said after the game when asked what the Cougars game plan is, “Our game plan? We listen to Coach, and we have fun.”
There you go. Yes, the Cougars went on to beat Mascenic in the Division III title game to cap off an unbeaten season. We also want to let you know that the Laconia football team was once again practicing on the hill above the stadium for the first game, and stopped practice to stand for the National Anthem. Word was with heavy rain and possibly snow expected later the next day that Laconia football coach Craig Kozens was going to hold practice at 5:30 a.m. To avoid all of the mess. Ouch. Temps were in the 30s by the end of Campbell’s game. It was so bitter that yours truly needed the men’s room hand dryer to warm up fingers t
But the Cougars listened to their coach, and had fun.
THURSDAY, NOV. 7
Well, it didn’t snow, but a soaking rain was a big part of Londonderry’s 1-0 Girls Divison I soccer semifinal win over Bishop Guertin, the sixth tourney game at Stellos on the tourney trail. The NHIAA likes to have the teams benches and trainers on the side opposite the big stands/press box, so the players are more removed from the fans. But on a night like this, it certainly seemed like it would be a good idea to have the players closer to the locker rooms. Still, Stellos caretaker Bob Guidaboni made sure there were tents on the opposite side to keep players and training staff – and photographers– dry. How strange of a night was it? Guertin coach Pat Mulcahy actually blurted out, “Who is this ref? She’s pretty good.” That, fans, was a first for the Cardinals coach.
The Cards, however, ended up bowing to Londonderry, 1-0, and looked like they got robbed by the linesman when Caitlyn Toom had been yanked down by Lancer goalie Jasmine Richards to prevent a sure empty net goal, which would have resulted in a penalty kick. But Toom was called off-sides after the refs conferred. Guertin pressured Richards in the last minute – Katie Boudreau had a golden chance on a header that went just high. But Guertin’s 16-3 season ended. “We played great in the second half, created a ton of chances, but just couldn’t get one,” Mulcahy said.
But, we promised you the reason why Central coach Lally said it was so hard for him to speak after his quarterfinal loss. He told a couple of writers at halftime that he was hanging it up after the better part of four decades coaching in the game. An amazing career.
SATURDAY, NOV. 9
We were finally ready for some football, back to Stellos Stadium for the Merrimack-North Division I quarterfinal.
It was not only a rematch of last year’s mud bowl in Merrimack, won by the Tomahawks, but a rematch of a 31-19 North win just two weeks prior. The poor Titans. The weather took away back Curtis Harris’ explosiveness last year, and a knee injury suffered in that recent Merrimack game took away Harris, period. North’s offense was no match, as Tomahawks sophomre QB Kyle Crampton tossed two TD passes. Scenes after the game: Harris, hugging his teammates after spending the game in street clothes charting stats on an I-pad; Merrimack, not jumping up and down and putting on a celebration after the game, giving the Titans great respect and acknowledging they won just a playoff game, not a title; and Merrimack triple threat James Dowling leaving Stellos on crutches, just as he did two weeks earlier. That time he injured one ankle; this time he injured another and it would end his season.
But North fell behind 19-0 and just couldn’t generate enough offense. Jayden Espinal, who QB’d a win over Dover the previous week as Harris’ replacement was essentially bottled up. “Down three scores in the first half is a huge hole to dig out of against these guys,” North coach Dante Laurendi said.
After the game, Tomahawk tight end Jared Dyer proclaimed supreme confidence in his sophomore QB Crampton. “Kyle is the man,” Dyer said with a huge grin, “and he knows he’s the man.”
SATURDAY, NOV. 17
The Trail more or less went cold for a week with all the other sports concluded, and it ends here at Exeter’s Bill Ball Stadium with Merrimack falling in the Division I football semis, 34-14. Exeter scored on three of its first four possessions – shocking Merrimack on the first one with a 50-yard pass play — and took a 21-0 lead into halftime. “We gradually got into it,” Dyer said, “but it was a little too late at that point.”
But what was amazing was after the game, when Merrimack fans and players alike were hugging and saying good-bye to their season on the turf of Eustis Field. It was a touching scene, one for a visiting team ending its season that these eyes had never viewed before, not that many people.
Merrimack says good-bye to a group of quality kids that had buoyed the program for the last couple of years. “This was a really good senior class from top to bottom, not just what they do on the field but the leaders they are,” Merrimack coach Kip Jackson said. “You can see them going around hugging people making sure the other kids are OK. We’re going to miss them. … I’m getting ready to start balling thinking of all the kids we’re going to be losing.”
And with that, we left the 2019 Fall Tourney Trail’s final stop.
Next year, for these local Division I football teams, let’s see if that last stop can finally be the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, firstname.lastname@example.org., or @Telegraph_TomK.