Consistency carries Sabers

AMHERST – It’s playoff time and the Souhegan High School field hockey team put itself in a familiar place after a familiar result.

After getting a first-round bye, the No. 2 Sabers opened the Division II tournament last Saturday by taking an early lead and pouring it on late, beating No. 7 Merrimack Valley 7-1 in their quarterfinal game in Amherst.

The win sent Souhegan to the semifinals for the fourth year in a row and eighth time in the last nine seasons. For the second-straight season, the Sabers were set to face No. 3 Portsmouth, which came back to beat No. 6 Derryfield 3-2, in the final four, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Exeter.

“Playoffs are always fun,” Souhegan coach Kelli Braley said. “It doesn’t matter who you are playing, the anxiousness and blood flow that’s going pregame is huge and the girls were definitely up for it.

“We’ve worked a lot on speed and quick starts and moving the ball, and I thought we were effective in all three of those areas. Especially in the first two quarters, we were communicating really well, moving the ball with pace, supporting each other. It was fun.”

Chloe Luongo led the way for Souhegan (14-0-1) as she scored three goals, while McKenzie Berry, Ari Goulet and Brooke Fallon each had a goal and an assist and Annika Madeja also scored.

Ella Barrett, the Sabers’ leading scorer, was held without a goal, but had two assists and helped create room for her teammates to find ways to score.

“It’s helpful that we’ve got Ella up front, too,” Braley said. “Even though she didn’t get on the scoreboard (Saturday), she draws attention, opens up other players. That’s the nice thing, we’re a versatile team and we don’t rely on just one person to score. Chloe was able to capitalize and we got help from all of our wings as well.”

Luongo scored her first goal with 4:17 left in the opening quarter and Goulet made it 2-0 with 6:52 to go until halftime.

The Sabers kept pushing for more late in the quarter, but Merrimack Valley goalie Taylor Gionet (six saves) came up with a pair of saves.

But with 1:50 left in the half, Fallon found the back of the cage to make it 3-0 going into the break.

“I think our defense did a good job making stops at the beginning,” Merrimack Valley coach Jen Colgan said. “They got on the board early, and sometimes we hang our head, and that can come back on us. I felt like we kept on playing.”

The Pride (10-6) opened the second half by stopping a Souhegan penalty corner and then getting one of their own at the other end. Kaiya Mercier got the ball across the circle to Kalee Keyser and she beat Annie Raduazzo with a low shot to the far corner to get Merrimack Valley on the board.

But the Sabers wouldn’t let the Pride get any closer and Madeja scored with 4:24 left in the third quarter to put Souhegan up 4-1.

“It’s exactly what you want,” Braley said. “They got the ball back, they picked up pace, they were like ‘no worries, we’ll get this.’ They did, they took it down the field, drew a couple of corners and were able to capitalize.”