BY MATT DIFILIPPO

HAMPDEN — Nearly 10 years ago, Mackenzie Carter’s family made a decision: Mackenzie would skip the first grade.

Why are you reading about this in a soccer article? Because if Carter hadn’t skipped a grade, she would have been an eighth-grader this year, and she wouldn’t have been playing on this high school girls soccer team at Ashland. And she wouldn’t have scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to give Ashland a 2-1 victory over Richmond in the Class D state final Saturday afternoon at the Weatherbee Complex.

Carter scored just 3 minutes, 7 seconds into overtime. The Hornets had back-to-back corner kicks from the right side and, on the first, the ball was booted just wide of the goal by a Richmond player. On the second, the Bobcats couldn’t clear the ball, and Carter ended up with it a little toward the right side. Her soft shot rolled through everyone and inside the left post to end the game.

“It came in, and then one of my teammates, they kicked it and it deflected off somebody,” Carter said. “I kind of just was more aiming it towards the goal than power.”

The game built in excitement throughout the afternoon. Richmond had an opportunity 3:15 into the first half, but Ashland keeper Megan Cote came up to defend Camryn Hurley on the right side, and Hurley’s long far-post shot missed by a few feet as she and Cote crashed into each other. The play was costly to the Hornets, as just five minutes later, Cote got the attention of her bench and was helped off the field.

“She called over,” Ashland coach Peter Belskis said, “and said, ‘I can’t raise my hand. I can’t raise my arm.’ Then I said, OK, just sit down, then, and we’ll get you out.'”

Cote, a freshman, had played every minute in goal for Ashland this season. Belskis turned to junior stopper Laura Sturgeon, who had goalkeeping experience in her past.

“Laura Sturgeon used to be the all-star, middle-school goalie,” Belskis said. “It just so happens that we needed her more on the field. But she’s always had the ability to go in goal and play outstanding keeper.”

“I was very nervous,” Sturgeon said. “I only practiced PKs during the season. I haven’t really practiced it overall. It came back after a couple saves.”

One of those saves was more luck than anything. With 19:05 to go in the first half, Sturgeon came out to challenge Richmond’s Kelsea Anair on a 50/50 ball. Anair tried to poke it over Sturgeon, but Sturgeon stopped the ball with her face.

“It went over one of our players, and I had no other choice but to go out and try to stop it,” Sturgeon said. “It hit me in the face and went out, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll take it!'”

About seven minutes later, Sturgeon made a leaping save on a free kick by Anair from 20 yards out, so the teams ended the first half with the game still scoreless.

Carter changed that 9:23 into the second half. She tracked down a loose ball, stepped on it, then used a burst to dart to her left and around her defender. Carter shot back toward the middle of the net and buried it for a 1-0 lead.

Sturgeon, who finished with 13 saves, made her only mistake a few minutes later. She came out to catch a long shot, and bobbled it as Richmond sophomore Meranda Martin raced in. There was a little contact, and the ball bounced out of Sturgeon’s arms, off Martin, and into the net to tie it at 1 with 24:49 to go.

The Hornets actually came close to regaining the lead 18 seconds later, but Richmond keeper Kelsie Obi made a diving stop on the left post to rob Carter of the goal. Ashland had another great chance with 9:36 left, but Obi closed off the left post and Caitlin Paradis’ shot went wide, leading Paradis to sink to her knees in frustration.

“The Obi girl played, I thought, outstanding in goal,” Belskis said. “She made some really, really critical saves.”

The Bobcats had one more amazing defensive stand in them, and they needed it. With under 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Carter got free and only had Obi to beat to the ball for a certain goal. The two players deflected the ball between them, and then Obi stopped Carter’s rebound attempt. With about 15 seconds left, Carter regained possession and tried a longer shot that had Obi beaten, but Richmond’s Jade Gammon headed it away .

“That last shot from Mackenzie Carter should have been the game-winner,” Belskis said. “She came out of nowhere and headed that out.”

Ashland finally broke through in the overtime. But it was one of those games where Richmond earned respect as well.

“We created some good chances,” Richmond coach Troy Kendrick said. “I think their team speed gave us some trouble. But geez, our kids hung in there. I like the way we gutted.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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