BURRILLVILLE — Even before North Smithfield High faced Division II foe and regional rival Burrillville on Thursday afternoon, head coach Jeremy Sherer worried about how his young players would fare against a more experienced squadron.
Turns out, he had reason for concern: The Broncos took advantage of a goal and two assists from senior co-captain Taylor Ross while playing superlative defense throughout to nail down a 3-0 triumph over the Northmen at Gledhill Field.
“I’ve graduated 17 seniors over the last two years, and seven last year,” Sherer acknowledged after his squad fell to 2-6-2 in league play. “Before the start of the season, we had lost Claudia Lamoureux to an ACL (knee) injury, and we lost a returning varsity starter in the spring. Another one, Maddie Zuba, had an ankle injury, and our goalkeeper (Samantha Kent) transferred back in just a month ago.
“I mean, how many double-whammies can you handle? We’ve been pummeled with injuries, and most of the players we’ve been fielding have been freshmen and sophomores,” he continued. “At one point (Thursday), I had 10 freshmen and sophomores playing, and never less than eight. Needless to say, that’s tough to overcome. This is definitely a rebuilding year for us.”
Noted Broncos’ mentor Amy Cardone: “I only have four seniors myself, (so) you can talk about age, but we’re basically in the same boat. I had four seniors starting, along with five juniors, two sophomores and a freshman playing significant minutes.
“I also have three freshmen who could easily be starters, but the big thing this year is that we’re deeper,” she added. “We had more girls come out (for the team) than we’ve had in the five years I’ve been coaching.”
Burrillville needed little time snatching a 1-0 lead; in the ninth minute, Ross found junior midfielder Katie Antoniello with a pretty feed, and she knocked home her lone tally.
The Northmen’s defense settled down for a bit, but later succumbed to junior forward/midfielder swing Samantha Liberty, who roped in a Ross pass in the 27th minute to increase its advantage to 2-0.
That’s the way the opening session ended, though Sherer’s bunch still had plenty of time to at least knife the deficit to one.
That fell by the wayside less than two minutes into the final stanza. Ross drilled a shot past sophomore goalie Kent to make it 3-0.
North Smithfield nevertheless kept plugging, even after Antoniello had raced down the left side and past junior defender Gelsomina Gambardella to fire a try at Kent. The latter, however, made a diving stop with her right hand by the left post, keeping the deficit to three.
Approximately 11 minutes into the second half, Ross, stationed perhaps 12 feet in front of the cage, headed a teammate’s pass apparently past Kent, which would’ve given the Broncos a 4-0 cushion. Officials, though, indicated it had drifted outside the right post.
Six minutes after that, the Northmen’s sophomore midfielder Gabrielle Fernandes whistled a 30-yard grounder toward junior keeper Catherine Keable, but she cautiously snagged the save, arms tucked under the ball.
In the span of two minutes midway through the half, North Smithfield senior co-captain Michaela Brodeur initially tried to test Keable after racing down the left side. With one defender to beat, and ready to cut the Burrillville lead to 3-1, junior sweeper Sydney Blais booted the ball away.
About 40 seconds later, Brodeur attempted a 28-yard line drive from the right at Keable, but the netminder snatched the shot on a strange bounce.
With approximately 10 minutes left in regulation, Kent mustered what almost certainly was the save of the afternoon. Liberty took a crossing pass from a teammate and delivered a soft line drive that almost tucked under the crossbar. Kent, however, leaped in the air at the last second and knocked it away with her left hand.
To her credit, Kent closed with 15 saves, Keable just three. The reason for Keable’s superb outing: Her defense, which included Blais, sophomore Mikaela Messier and freshman Caitlin Libby.
For NS, sophomores Fernandes, Melissa Cianci and Olivia Stone, not to mention Gambardella, were exemplary on the defensive side.
“Before it started, our goal was to control the midfield with good passing and movement without the ball,” Cardone stated. “I thought we did that very well. We were sending the ball to the outside, and then getting it back inside; they were finding the open girl. By doing that, we created opportunities in the middle.
“Defensively, we’re faster than we have been; I have a really quick defense who can play the ball and get it out,” she added. “Lincoln and Pilgrim were the only undefeated teams (in the division prior to Thursday’s games), and our two losses were to Lincoln and Warwick Vets. That’s because we didn’t play smart, and our mistakes hurt us.
“We didn’t make many (Thursday), but we still have a lot to work on.”