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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The defending Division I state champion Needham Rockets traveled down the road to Walpole on Monday evening for a pivotal Bay State Conference showdown with the undefeated Rebels (15-0, 10-0).
Back on April 5, the Rebels came from four down in the final quarter to upend the Rockets on Memorial Field for a 12-10 season-opening win. On Monday, Needham sought revenge for the season-opening defeat and looked to do so on Walpole’s senior night - all while preventing the Lady-Rebs from clinching the Bay State Conference title.
Despite a stellar 12-save performance in net by Needham goaltender Lily Callahan, the Rebels were able to outlast the Grace Kelley-led Rockets (11-5, 7-2) behind big days from senior captains Emily Curtis (two goals, four assists) and Celia Walsh (five goals, two assists).
The Villanova-bound Curtis drew first blood for the Rebels less than a minute in after receiving a pass at the crease from Audra Tosone and tucking it down low for the early 1-0 lead. About 1:30 later, the Georgetown-bound Walsh doubled Walpole’s lead to 2-0 with a goal off of a free position restart. Curtis fired home her second of the game off of transition following the ensuing faceoff just 17 seconds later to push the lead to 3-0. Tosone put home a goal at the crease off of a feed from Walsh behind the cage by Nicole Griffin two minutes later before another from Walsh on a free position pushed the lead to 5-0 and forced Needham to take a timeout.
Whatever adjustments Needham made during the timeout immediately worked wonders for the Rockets, as freshman Grace Kelley got Needham on the board with a strong drive and finish down low to make it 5-1. Kelley struck again just moments later on a similar drive and right-handed finish down low to cut it to 5-2. Elena Oberle cut the deficit to a pair at 5-3 with a goal on a free position before Maeve Barker finished a cut to the crease with a goal up high to make it a one-goal game.
“It truly is a game of runs,” said Walpole head coach Mike Tosone following the victory. “You just know that when it’s two good teams that nobody is going to run away and hide. Not for one second did I think either team would hide, and it showed tonight with an excellent lacrosse game.”
Walsh responded for Walpole by completing the hat trick 1:45 later to make it a 6-4 game, but two straight by Abby Dateo tied the game at six for Needham with less than three minutes to play in the half. Nicole Griffin gave the Rebels back the lead at 7-6 with 1:30 to play, but a series of clutch saves by Callahan during the final minute kept the deficit at a single goal for Needham at halftime.
Barker’s second of the night tied the game at seven for Needham less than a minute into the second half. Tosone gave the Rebels back the lead at 8-7 after finishing a nifty feed at the crease from Samantha Rodia. About a minute later, Rodia quick-sticked home a goal at the crease off of a feed from Griffin to make it a two-goal game at 9-7.
Oberle struck back for Needham to make it a one-goal game once again at 9-8, but another from Rodia put Walpole in double digits and pushed the lead back to a pair at 10-8. Abigail McLaughlin fired home a goal off of a feed from Walsh to extend the lead to 11-8 before Kelley cut it to 11-9 off of a free position. A slick stop-and-start cut, followed by a strong finish from Walsh, pushed Walpole’s edge to 12-9 just moments later. Walsh struck again with a quick-stick off of a feed from Griffin to push the lead to 13-9 with a little over five minutes to play. The Rebels added another goal with just over a minute to play to make it a 14-9 game and held on for the four-goal victory to clinch their third straight Herget Division title.
“I’m thrilled,” said Tosone when asked about the Rebels running the table in conference action and winning their third straight Herget Division title. “In any year it’s a tremendous accomplishment and certainly this year is no different. Wellesley is a really good team, they [Needham] and Natick are really good teams. Any given day any of these teams can beat one another so we’re thrilled to come out unbeaten heading into tournament time.”
Walpole senior captain Celia Walsh credited her team’s resilience throughout the second half, as well as her team’s ability to clean things up and make the necessary adjustments when it came down to crunch time.
“I think we played smarter lacrosse in that second half,” said Walsh. “We definitely slowed it down. We tended to force it into the middle throughout the first half and I think that was just nerves but the second half we definitely took control of things and played smarter and that really benefitted us in the end.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.