North ends season for girls soccer

Ali Nelson was in the right place at the right time.

The Nashua High School North goalie tracked the ball as it went from Merrimack’s Rachel Mack to Alexis Kapsambelis, who one-timed a shot that Nelson somehow was able to get a hand on to keep out of the net.

That stop, combined with two goals from Keegan Burch, and a solid defensive effort from the Titans helped No. 7 Nashua North to a 2-0 win Thursday over No. 10 Merrimack in the Division I preliminary round at Stellos Stadium.

The win sends the Titans (10-6-1) to the quarterfinals Sunday, where they lost to No. 2 Bedford 3-0.

“I thought they came out on fire,” North coach Dan Wyborney said of his team. “That’s what we’ve been talking about, coming out with a different level of play than what we’ve had all season.

“Dig deep and find something to make it different. We possessed well, we moved the ball well, we controlled the speed and the tempo of play, everything was kind of on our foot (Thursday).”

That hadn’t been the case of late for North, as it entered the tournament having lost four of its final five games. Merrimack (7-9-1) ended the regular season going in the other direction, having won seven of its final nine games, but the Tomahawks were dealt a tough blow when Abby Smith went down with an injury in the second-to-last game.

Still, coach Tim Field felt his group could still carry that momentum into the postseason.

“We felt really good about this game,” he said. “The injury to Abby Smith didn’t help at all. She was the heart and soul of the team and she was hurt two games ago against Dover. That hurt us because we had to adjust everything.

“We played well. The desire was there (but) we weren’t connecting the way we should have been connecting. The 50-50 balls, they were beating us to too many of them. When they got pushed against the wall though, they fought back and I was proud of what they did.”

Burch’s first goal in the 24th minute gave North the lead and it was able to tighten up defensively and shut off Merrimack’s chances. But a third of the way through the second half, the Tomahawks’ were able to generate more pressure.

Merrimack’s best chance came on the misdirection by Mack and Kapsambelis, but after Nelson’s big save, the Titans came back the other way.

“You’re keeper is expected to make two giant saves in a half,” Wyborney said. “That’s what we’re looking to get, two giant plays every half in order for us to compete and play. That might have been both of them. There were others where she came off the line early and got balls out of there.”

Burch added her second goal in the 70th minute and it turned into a scary play for Merrimack goalie Keara Veene (11 saves). The junior keeper leapt to try to make the save and landed awkwardly, hurting her neck and back. The game was delayed while an ambulance was called and Veene left the stadium on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace.

“She was moving around,” Field said of Veene. “I’m telling myself she was more scared than injured. Some of these girls have been playing together since they were 8 years old, and she’s one of them. It’s tough to see your teammate rolled off the field.”

Merrimack tried to generate offense in the final 10 minutes, but couldn’t, and backup keeper Emma Faye made a nice save late to keep it a 2-0 game.