By Michael James LeClair
The Nashoba Regional field hockey team kicked off its title defense in grand fashion on Friday afternoon.
The third-seeded Chieftains opened the 2016 Central Mass. Division 1 Tournament by welcoming sixth-seeded Shrewsbury to town.
Nashoba proceeded to bring an end to the Colonials season by handing them a 3-0 loss in first round action.
The Chieftains, the two-time defending Central Mass. Division 1 champion, pick up their 14th win of the season and improved to 14-2-3 overall.
“The girls worked really hard this past week in practice and it showed in the way we played,” said Nashoba head coach Jaime Mariani. “We had four days to prepare for this game and we had four really good days of practice. Overall, this was a great team win against a good Shrewsbury team.”
With the win, Nashoba advanced to Monday’s Semifinal round where they beat seventh-seeded Westborough 3-0 at Grafton High School. Natalie Brown scored the first Nashoba goal, with Erica Spallone adding two more. Katie Crowley had 11 saves in her 11th shutout of the season.
At Friday’s game, the win by Nashoba over Shrewsbury exacts a little revenge for the Chieftains. The Colonials were the last team to defeat Nashoba, knocking off the Chieftains 1-0 on October 19. Since that loss, Nashoba has won six straight games including Monday’s victory.
“I think the girls were excited to get another shot at them (Shrewsbury) to prove that we are a very solid team,” said Mariani. “Coming into the tournament we knew it could be anyone’s game.”
The Chieftains weren’t going to let history repeat itself as the hosts, playing the Colonials on their own turf field as opposed to Shrewsbury’s grass field, came out like gangbusters to open the contest.
Nashoba opened the scoring 5:59 into the contest when Natalie Brown took a feed from Erica Spallone and blasted it past Shrewsbury goalie Lauren Arpino for the quick 1-0 lead.
At the other end of the field, Nashoba senior goalie Katie Crowley was on top of her game. The Chieftains captain made three huge saves on the Shrewsbury offense in the first 15 minutes, including one diving stop in front of the right post.
“I think the loss to Shrewsbury was weighing in the back of all of our minds coming in but I think that loss fueled us today,” said Crowley after the game. “We knew this was going to be a tough game and Shrewsbury would come in hungry but we were ready for the challenge and the girls played really well today.”
In all, Crowley made seven saves in the cage to preserve the shut out.
The hosts added to their lead with 11:15 to play before halftime when Spallone and Brown hooked up once again. This time Spallone potted the Nashoba goal with Brown assisting to make it 2-0.
When asked about her performance after the contest, Spallone gave the credit to her teammates. “We came into this game knowing it was a must-win game and we had to come out strong and show them that we could beat them on our home turf,” said Spallone. “I felt pretty good about the way I played but I thought the whole team played really well. We all stepped up together and really worked well together. It was a great team win.”
It stayed 2-0 into the halftime break but not long after that as Nashoba tacked on an insurance goal only 1:51 into the second half as Spallone capped her three-point game by tacking on her second goal of the afternoon. Brown also picked up her third point as she registered her second assist of the game.
“Natalie and Erica scored all the goals for us today but I think everybody contributed to this win, not just the people who scored,” said Mariani. “From the forwards to the midfield to the defense and Katie in net, everyone did a fantastic job.”
In addition to Crowley’s stellar work in the net and Spallone and Brown’s play on the offensive end, several other Nashoba players turned in a top notch playoff performance including: Hannah Gaffney, Gigi Fay, Courtney Cote, Sarah Johnson and Chloe Spedden.
No. 3 Nashoba will play No. 1 Marlboro on Friday, Nov. 11 at 11:00am at Grafton High School in the D1 Finals.