Sabers fall to Jags

EXETER – The schedule will say that the Souhegan High School field hockey team began and finished the 2014 season with a loss to Windham.

The results may have been the same, but the games couldn’t have been different.

After getting drubbed, 5-0, in the season opener by Windham, the fourth-seeded Sabers had the No. 1 Jaguars on the ropes late in Tuesday’s Division II semifinal before falling 3-1 at Exeter’s Bill Ball Stadium.

Windham moves on to face No. 2 Lebanon, which defeated No. 3 Kennett 7-2 in the other semifinal. The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at Bedford High School.

Kate Almeida had a goal for the Sabers (12-4), who were in the semifinals for the first time since 2011, and Lauren McCormick had an assist while Kate Heaney stopped 17 shots, including several in the first 10 minutes of the game that kept the game scoreless.

“Kate has been an amazing asset for our team over the past three years,” Souhegan coach Kelli Warecki said. “She’s the one that our team can always depend on to be there. She was phenomenal and she kept us in there in the beginning. That could have horribly wrong in that first half if Kate wasn’t on her game.”

Heaney came up big repeatedly as Souhegan struggled to get the ball out of its own end, and Windham had plenty of opportunities, getting seven penalty corners in the first 15 minutes of the game.

The Jaguars (15-0-1) got on the board when Courtney Sweeney slid the ball across the front of the goal and Justine Levesque knocked it in with 14:07 left in the first half. Souhegan looked like it might be able to escape to the break down just one, despite not having control of the ball for much of the half, but Taylor Powell put Windham up 2-0 with 5:03 to go until halftime.

“It made a big difference,” Windham coach Amanda Ward said. “The great thing is that the team knows (the coaches) well and knows that neither myself nor my assistant were comfortable with 2-0. It did feel better knowing we had two goals under our belt and that we were going to go up from there, hopefully.”

Windham did, as Rachel Rogers scored off a corner just 3:12 into the half to make it 3-0.

“It wouldn’t have been the first time this season we’ve overcome being down,” said Warecki of her team, which rallied to beat Portsmouth in the quarterfinals. “In our season, it takes one goal for us to come alive. When we got that first one, they started pushing forward.”

Almeida’s goal came off a corner with 19:46 to play and gave Souhegan some life. The Sabers had opportunities, including a five-minute man-advantage after Levesque received a yellow card with 18:44 left in the game.

But the Jaguars killed the off and were able to keep Souhegan out of the net on three corners in the final three minutes.

That drive at the end was part of the improvement the Sabers made from that first game of the season to Tuesday night.

“They were a totally different team,” Warecki said. “The confidence was definitely key, knowing that they had all the skills to execute. Unfortunately, Windham got a jump on us early and that kind of got in our heads a little bit.

“We figured it out at the end, and I started seeing our game more, which was different than the first time we saw them. We knew our places, we knew our roles, we knew how to support each other. I was proud of the way they played (Tuesday).”