HAMPDEN — This was not your grandfather’s Richmond girls soccer team. It wasn’t even your older sibling’s.

Gone for 2017 was the program’s trademark juggernaut attacking game, replaced instead by a defensive resolve that led the Bobcats to a 2-1 win over longtime championship rival Ashland in the Class D final Saturday at Hampden Academy. The win was Richmond’s 11th state championship overall and fifth in the last eight seasons.

After scoring 11 postseason goals a year ago, Richmond scored only six goals in its final three playoff rounds this season. More importantly, the Bobcats conceded only twice during the tournament — the second of which came with only two minutes remaining in the final against Ashland.

“Our backs have just been super the second half of the season,” Richmond coach Troy Kendrick said. “Again, (the final) was our season in a nutshell. We made the plays defensively and scored just enough to win, right? It’s the kids just kind of coming together. There were some different pieces to the puzzle this year and some different kids stepping up when we needed to.”

After a pedestrian start to the first half of the regular season (3-3-0), Richmond found its stride not by scoring goals but by being flat-out bullish defensively. The Bobcats closed the regular season with an eight-game unbeaten streak (6-0-2) in which they allowed just three goals in total.

The run included five straight shutouts to close the regular season and a pair of 0-0 draws. In the tournament, Richmond posted two more blankings in four games.

“My job starts in the back, and what I’m able to do is going to give my teammates the inclination that I’m doing my part so they can step up and do theirs,” said senior goalkeeper Sydney Tilton, who was in goal for 11 shutouts this season. “I’m a big believer in making mistakes and then learning from them. Not doing my best makes me work harder.”

Tilton grew as a goalkeeper during her career, taking on the position early in her high school career without having played it before. Growth wasn’t easy — her junior season was marked by an offense that proved to be the Bobcats’ best defense.

In short, Tilton was rarely tested. This year was different, with three losses in the first six matches of the season, she knew that she was going to have to raise her game.

“As a team, in order to get here to states, we needed to work that much harder,” Tilton said. “I knew I needed to step up my game to support my teammates, because they were stepping up theirs.”

“She’s not only a vocal leader, but with her play in the goal, she makes a lot of big plays for us,” Kendrick said. “We have a lot of confidence in her, and the kids do, too. She helped us ride the storm out there.

“She’s figured it out. Super athlete, super work ethic. She’s really turned herself into an outstanding goalkeeper.”

Ashland coach Peter Belskis, whose team defeated Richmond for both the 2014 and 2016 state championships, saw his team shut out in the first half for the first time all season in Saturday’s state final.

“Their philosophy is that they put a lot of pressure defensively on you in an area so you can’t get the (field) changed,” Belskis said. “You can’t change it, and our problem was changing the ball from one side of the field to the other. We just weren’t doing enough of that.

“They’re physical. You need to settle the ball and you need to change it.”

What the Bobcats changed this year was their formula for success. It worked.

“This game typified our season. We played stingy defense and opportunistic offense,” Kendrick said. “We wanted to be smart and keep plenty of people behind the ball. I was hoping we could get out of there without giving up that last goal. It would have been a less stressful last few minutes.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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