The Merrimack High School field hockey team had what every team wants during a postseason game, but rarely gets – a penalty stroke.
Trailing No. 10 Salem by a goal midway through the second half, the No. 7 Tomahawks were awarded the stroke when the Blue Devils covered the ball on the goal line. But the shot by Merrimack’s Callie Dwyer was wide of the net and it seemed like momentum was going to swing back to Salem.
Instead, Merrimack kept the ball in the Blue Devils end and scored three goals in the next 2:05 to take a 4-2 win in the Division I preliminary round. Merrimack moves on to face No. 2 Timberlane in the quarterfinals Saturday.
The Tomahawks (9-5-1) got a goal each from Rachel Schwartz, Jesse Londano, Olivia Kapsambelis and Dwyer and goalie Mac Hennas stopped six shots in net.
Kiley Keenan had both goals for Salem (6-8-1), as she gave the Blue Devils the lead a little more than seven minutes into the game, and then put Salem up 2-1 1:38 into the second half.
“After they scored and we came back, it seemed the intensity picked up a little,” Merrimack coach Ann MacLean said of the first half. “I was really proud that they just kept pushing forward and they didn’t let up. Salem was very aggressive to the ball.”
The second goal by Keenan seemed to wake up a Merrimack team that had struggled to keep the ball out of its own end for most of the first half. The Tomahawks had a couple of penalty corners early in the half, but couldn’t get the ball past Salem goalie Brianna Marino.
Then, with 17:22 left in the game, the Blue Devils were called for covering up the ball in front of their goal, giving Merrimack a penalty stroke. The Tomahawks picked Dwyer to take the shot, but she lifted it wide to the left of the cage.
“I think the stroke that they missed on got them together and they knew that time was running out on them,” Salem coach John Gatsas said. “They needed to do what they did.
“We played a good 40, 45 minutes strong and had a couple of lulls there. A couple of the corners there in the second half killed us. We weren’t aggressive going for the ball like we were in the first half and it got us in a hole.”
Merrimack got another corner moments after the missed stroke and Londano scored to tie the game with 16:38 to play. Salem took a timeout, but the Tomahawks kept the momentum, getting another goal off a corner, this time Kapsambelis, with 15:36 left.
A little more than a minute later – and 2:05 after the first goal – Dwyer slapped home a shot, giving Merrimack some insurance for the final 14:33.
“It just fired them up,” MacLean said of the missed stroke. “I think they just finally realized that this is it. I can’t say enough positive things about it. I’m pleased. It was great to keep that intensity level because that’s what we’re going to need in the next round.”
Merrimack goes into the quarterfinals against Timberlane with a bit of confidence. The Tomahawks were one of two teams to defeat the Owls (12-2) this season, winning 1-0 on Sept. 10.
“They know they can do it,” MacLean said. “The bigger plus is that it’s on grass. It’s going to be a battle and I hear the weather is supposed to be nice.”