BRISTOL — When Burrillville High senior tri-captain Laura Hauser went home after school to grab her uniform Monday afternoon, there was a strange addition next to her jersey, laying right there on her bed.
“It was about 2:30, and I found a lucky penny, with the head up,” she explained. “My mom said she didn't have any idea how it got there. I almost walked out of the house without it; I got to my car, then forgot I didn't have it, so I turned around and raced back to get it.
“I mean, I'm a superstitious person,” she added.
Hauser admitted that the penny “probably” didn't have any extraordinary powers, but also mentioned it wouldn't hurt to have it in her possession when her Broncos faced Smithfield in the R.I. Division II Tournament title tilt later that night.
You know, maybe it was lucky after all. Hauser fed sophomore forward Kasey Desrosiers with a crossing pass at the 12:44 mark of the second half, and the latter knocked it home to give top-seeded Burrillville not only a 1-0 victory over the gritty Sentinels, but also its first state championship since winning four straight from 1984 to 1987.
That's not all: With the triumph on the Roger Williams University field turf on mighty chilly Monday night, the Broncos sealed their unbeaten season at 16-0-1.
“I know my aunt, Jennifer Hauser Bergin, played on the 1984 state championship team; I haven't heard a lot about it, but last Christmas, one of my (other) aunts gave me a gift, and it was a photo of that team,” Hauser laughed. “Throughout the season, I kept looking back on it, and I couldn't stop thinking, 'Maybe this could be my time, and my team.'
“This is incredible!” she added. “It honestly hasn't sunk in. We were looking around at all the fans who were here watching us, and that's the biggest crowd we've ever played in front of – easily. I think they made us play harder. I know it did with me.”
Burrillville may have had a tough time edging Cumberland High in a 2-1, triple-overtime semifinal win at East Greenwich High on Saturday night, but it controlled most of this contest against a youthful, second-ranked Smithfield squad, one that boasted only four seniors.
“The key to (winning) this game was confidence,” stated head coach Sue Burgess after posing for several photos with her squad, the Division II-North and state title plaques in her hands. “They were very confident they could come in and give Smithfield a good game, and they did.
“I mean, I was sick on Saturday night,” she added. “I was nauseated thinking back at the Cumberland game. They looked scared, and I think it was because they were afraid of losing, of making a mistake. (On Monday night), I felt really confident because I knew they felt it.”
Very early in their campaign, the Sentinels (who finished at 11-4-3 overall) had given the Broncos all they could handle in a 2-2 stalemate.
“Before the game, Coach told us that we shouldn't feel any pressure from anyone else, but that we needed to put the pressure on ourselves to finish this season the way she thought we could,” offered a misty senior tri-captain and goalkeeper Alex LeClair, who mustered four saves. “She said, 'You guys know how hard you've worked to get here. Now go out and do it!'”
In a contest that began with eight-plus minutes of “feeling each other out,” fellow tri-captain Brittany Bebeau notched the first shot on net at 8:58 when, from the right side, she fired an approximate six-yard shot on Smithfield freshman goalie Miranda Grundy, who made a stellar kick save.
With 11 minutes left, Bebeau rushed down the right slot and rifled a point-blank try at Grundy, and she again made a right pad save.
Between 20:20 and 26:15 marks, Bebeau initiated a pair of penalty corners, though nothing came of either, but the Sentinels almost took advantage of third consecutive corner with about 1:45 remaining before the break. That's when junior Sophia Demopulos drilled a left-side shot at LeClair, and the latter responded with a superb kick save.
In the last 2:10, referees had whistled Burrillville for four infractions inside the half-circle, but Smithfield managed only one shot on net in that time.
The half ended in a scoreless tie, the Broncos mustering three shots, the Sentinels only that one.
With 5:35 remaining in the final session, Hauser ripped a shot through her foes' defense from near midfield, but sophomore keeper Lauren Hindley – who had replaced Grundy – knocked it out.
Just about four minutes later, Bebeau drove a terrific crossing pass from the right at Desrosiers, but she fanned on the one-timer, causing the crowd of about 400 to groan. And, at the 11:27 mark, Bebeau received a crossing pass from the right, and – while stationed inside the left post – she took two dribbles and fired.
That attempt missed the right post by, perhaps, eight inches.
Exactly 63 ticks later, Hauser delivered a pass from the right at Desrosiers, who kept plugging inside the defense and eventually tucked it under Hindley for what proved to be the game-clincher.
“Laura gave me a great pass, and I just flicked it over (a defender's) stick,” Desrosiers chuckled later. (She also tallied the deciding goal with about 1:42 remaining in the third extra session against the Clippers).
“My first reaction was, 'I can't believe we just won the state championship!' My dad (Mark) had told me that if I scored the game-winning goal, he would buy me and my best friend (sophomore teammate) Erica Houle a 2012 state championship sweatshirt.
“Now he owes us,” she added, placing her right arm around Houle.
The Sentinels didn't go down without a fight. With 10:35 left, Demopulos unleashed a grounder from the right side at LeClair, but she made a splendid right pad kick save. Actually, Smithfield dominated much of the final 10 minutes, but only had one more shot on goal – call that a “gimme.”
“They're babies; they're so young,” stated head coach Andy Dewhitt, thrilled by her team's never-say-die attitude, after the defeat. “My expectations at the beginning of the season, I wouldn't call it necessarily negative, but I knew that we had a lot of young girls.
“They played such a great game, and it was a great game,” she continued. “We knew Burrillville was a big, strong, physical team, and that they were fast, too. We also knew we had to play a possession game, and we did. They were just too aggressive.
“I told our girls afterward, 'Hey, we've got the whole package. We just need more experience. I'm so proud of them.”
The Broncos were still celebrating with hugs from family members and friends near the stands when Burgess couldn't help coaching a bit more. With the National Anthem blaring from the press box before the start of the Division I final between Moses Brown and Barrington, she told her kids, “Shhhhhh!”
LeClair, with a teammate's arm embracing her, began tearing up again at hearing the song.
“Don't you write that!” she said, wiping her eyes.
Not so surprisingly, she was still spilling tears of joy.