PROVIDENCE — Lincoln High’s perfect season came to an end at the hands of … a perfect season.
In Saturday’s clash between two unbeaten teams trying to etch their names into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League history books, it was Tiverton that emerged with an unblemished record — and the Division II state championship.
A late second-half comeback fell short for the Lions, who watched the Tigers celebrate a 12-8 victory at Rhode Island College to cap a 17-0 campaign.
Jill DeSimone and Ashley Moreau netted hat tricks for second-seeded Lincoln, which reeled off a 14-0 regular season before disposing of No. 7 Narragansett and No. 3 Portsmouth to reach the finals.
Even with Saturday’s loss, it was impossible to ignore the progress made by a Lincoln squad that won two games last year and hadn’t registered more than four victories in any of the previous nine seasons.
“This team has come a long way,” said Lions coach Susan Renzi, who has overseen the program since its infancy in 2001. “This just wasn’t their day, that’s all.”
The day belonged to several members of the top-seeded Tigers, particularly Megan Raposa, named the game’s Most Valuable Player for her four-goal effort, and goalkeeper Alexandra Azevedo.
What figured to be a competitive contest was precisely that in the first half, a session that concluded with Tiverton holding a 5-4 edge.
The Tigers raced out to a 4-1 lead through 17:07 of play, prompting Renzi to use her first timeout.
“I’m not really sure if we were ready to play today,” DeSimone said. “There were a lot of nerves, but I think they passed the ball better, they were a lot quicker than us, and they capitalized on their opportunities, and we didn’t.”
Still, it was a timeout well spent, as the Lions closed the opening half on a 3-1 run to pull within a goal at the intermission.
DeSimone’s third tally of the game tied the score at five 3:52 into the second half, but Tiverton responded with five unanswered goals, one of which came after goalkeeper Nina Fournier’s outlet pass was intercepted feet front of the cage by Kara Lotz.
Suddenly trailing 10-5, a Lincoln team that entered Saturday averaging more than 13 goals per game rallied for one last charge. Moreau’s back-to-back tallies keyed a 3-1 spurt to move the Lions within an 11-8 deficit with 1:40 left in regulation.
But the Tigers -- “definitely the best team we’ve played by far,” DeSimone said -- had an answer. They always did.
Maya Bergandy’s tally with 50 seconds remaining ensured a happy ending to the career of her teammate standing on the other end of the field.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my senior year,” said Azevedo, who finished with 17 saves. “The team is like my second family, and I don’t even want to leave them. I wish the season wasn’t over, but this was just an amazing way to end it.”
Not so amazing for Lincoln, but a learning experience nonetheless.
“They’ve just got to keep their chins up and come back next year,” said Renzi, who returns the vast majority of her squad for the 2012 season. “We have another shot at it next year.”
“It’s always hard, because you remember the last game,” said DeSimone, a junior tri-captain who led the state with 96 regular-season goals. “We just couldn’t finish today and we had some struggles, but I definitely think finishing undefeated in the regular season is really great and a really good accomplishment.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done.”