EAST GREENWICH — Throughout the three overtime periods, Burrillville High senior tri-captain Alex LeClair stood in her goalie box physically shaking, not from Saturday evening's chill but from the fear of … dare we say it? Failure.
“I was physically and mentally exhausted, but all of that went away when it finally ended,” she grinned.
LeClair had been at least 90 yards away when sophomore forward Kasey Desrosiers, who seconds before had struck the left post with a point-blank rip, gained her own rebound and fired home the shot that gave the Broncos an amazing, “sudden-life” 2-1 victory over gallant Cumberland in a R.I. Division II Tournament semifinal at Nick Carcieri Field.
With the win, Burrillville not only remained unbeaten at 15-0-1, but secured a berth in the championship tilt against defending champion Smithfield at Roger Williams University at 6 p.m., Monday.
“I had just hit the post, and then I saw it bounce,” Desrosiers said afterward, appearing rather stunned at the tally that ended with only 1:42 left in the third OT. “I turned it around, took a couple of dribbles – which I'm not supposed to do – and then slammed it into the net.
“When I did, I just thought, 'Oh, my God! I really can't believe I just won us a playoff game,'” she added. “This is an unbelievable feeling!”
Head coach Sue Burgess admitted later she could believe it – though that's not to say she didn't have major twinges of anxiety during a contest that took roughly two-and-a-half hours to play. (Most field hockey tilts ending in the regulation 60 minutes take, on average, perhaps 75-85).
“I can believe it because I've got an amazing group of girls,” she said. “I work them hard. I push them because I know the potential they have. I push them even when I know they don't want to be pushed. I've learned, after 35 years of coaching, that – if you give players an easy way out – they'll take it, but I know these girls can handle it.
“After Cumberland scored the first (goal), I kept telling our players, 'Hey, it's a long game. You've just got to keep working hard! We're going to keep doing what we've done all year. We're not going to change a single thing in our game plan for this game. Keep working at it! Make it work!'
“Kasey's a Division I college prospect, and she's only a sophomore,” she added. “She's fearless out there. She slammed it into the right corner (of the cage).”
Burgess confessed she had never been a part of a triple-overtime game, no matter what the sport, including the girls' hoop team at Uxbridge, also her alma mater, several years ago.
“I don't believe so, and I've been involved in a lot of OT games,” she laughed.
The mentor wasn't so thrilled when the gutsy Clippers – after the Broncos already had put five shots on senior netminder Liz Alberg – took the lead on a solid goal from senior Franky Hawkins just 11:18 into the opening half.
On the play, junior Megan Martin possessed the ball deep down the right side and knocked a crossing pass in Hawkins' direction. After knocking it down, the latter roped a grounder under LeClair.
All told, Burrillville outshot its foe, 7-1, in the initial stanza, but had nothing to show for it.
“I could see at the start of the second half that we were knocking on the door; I could also see their frustration,” Burgess stated. “The girls were getting bummed out, but I kept saying, 'We're so close!'”
In the first seven minutes of the second half, officials issued the Broncos five penalty corners, but didn't have anything to show for it.
“We were all over them through most of the game, but we couldn't put the ball in the net,” senior tri-captain Brittany Bebeau offered. “It was so frustrating!”
Their drought finally ended when, with 6:19 remaining in regulation, senior tri-captain/midfielder Laura Hauser fed a pass from deep in the right offensive zone to Bebeau. Stationed by the right post, Bebeau drilled it past Alberg to send the Burrillville bench into a frenzy.
Cumberland mustered two shots on net, Burrillville three, before the referees signaled the necessity of a 10-minute overtime session.
In the first, both squads – instead of playing with the usual 11 athletes, had to switch to a “seven-on-seven” format – recorded three shots; in the second, both had two. As for the third 10-minute OT stanza, the rules changed once more: They would play “seven-on-seven” for the first three minutes, then move to “six-on-six” after the next three before going to “five-on-five” for the final four.
With much more field to cover, representatives from both sides had to battle through intense fatigue as they raced up and down the turf.
“I was worried about who was more tired, me or my opponents; I kept thinking, 'It better not be me!'” Bebeau said. “When we scored (the equalizer), I was, like, 'Yes! It's a brand new game, like it's zero-zero.”
Teammate Desrosiers took care of finishing it off.
“Our motto throughout this game was, 'We have nothing to lose. All the pressure is on them,' and our girls played that way,” Cumberland head coach Stefanie Capone-Bello stated afterward. “I thought we won more '50-50' balls than they did, and both goalies played super games in terms of saves. They played tremendous hockey, but somebody's got to win, somebody's got to lose.
“After the game, I just told our kids that I didn't want to see any heads hanging low,” she continued. “I told them they played a great game, and that I'm immensely proud of them.”
And for good reason – defensively, not only did Alberg make 15 stellar saves, but freshman Morgan Bulman, sophomore Lindsay Sheehan and juniors Arianna Coutu and Julie Fougere displayed superlative defense.
To her credit, LeClair closed with 10 saves.
“I knew in the back of my mind – even when we were behind – that we could pull it out,” LeClair said. “I felt we were so motivated, and knew everyone was thinking that we had worked so hard all year.”
Noted Burgess: We haven't had a game this important all year. I mean, if we had lost a game or two during the regular season, it may not have been as tense, but we were trying to keep the streak alive as much as win the game.
“Only once all year have we trailed, and that was against Smithfield in the second or third game of the season; that ended in a 2-2 tie,” she added. “During the overtimes, I kept telling the kids, “You're ready! That's why I always push you so hard! I didn't believe for a minute that it wasn't true, and I think they felt the same way.”
At that point, as the Sentinels and Thunderbolt warmed up, Burgess led out a scream, “Let's go, Cranston East!” It was quite understandable: Should the 'Bolt win, Burgess would face former assistant and current East head coach Sarah Mae Knolwton in the final.
“She's my daughter,” Burgess smiled. “Nothing would make me happier.”