PROVIDENCE – The drama was just beginning when Burrillville High senior co-captain Tori Libby hugged junior defender Tiara Bianco near midfield and exclaimed, “I can't believe this! I'm so tired, but I'm so excited!”
In the interim, that tandem's teammates celebrated around her with hugs, impromptu dances and the like.
That's what happens when a team wins a game it almost certainly wasn't supposed to, but found the inner strength to move forward.
The third-seeded Broncos, who trailed 1-0 at the break, took advantage of four unanswered goals in the span of 26:39 just after the final stanza's start and stunned top-seeded and previously unbeaten Lincoln, 4-1, to claim the R.I. Division II Tournament championship at the Rhode Island College soccer stadium late Sunday afternoon.
The upset resulted in Burrillville's first state crown in 20 years; it had managed a Division III title way back in 1993, but had dropped a pair of D-II championship-game decisions in overtime in 1996 and 1997.
“The big thing with these girls is they all love soccer; they play all the time,” offered an elated mentor Amy Cardone while proud parents and family members took cellphone photos of their newly-crowned champions, and a few mischievous gals tried to make their coach laugh while conducting interviews.
“I'm so happy for all of my players, but especially the seniors,” she added. “They've worked so hard for this … This is like a family, a sisterhood. I have four seniors, and they're all such close friends. I think that closeness of the seniors brought this team together as a whole. That friendship became contagious, and the underclassmen joined in.”
It's only proper that that the two senior co-captains – Tori Libby and Taylor Ross – played pivotal roles in the Broncos' second-half resurgence. The former posted a tally and two assists, while the latter mustered a goal and a feed.
Still, if there was an MVP on this night, it would've gone to junior Katie Antoniello, who buried a pair of seemingly impossible shots to help lift Burrillville.
Without question, a member of the All-Tournament Team (none was announced) would have been Lincoln junior midfielder Hailee Jarry. After notching two scores in a 2-1 semifinal triumph over Warwick Vets on Friday night, she got the Lions on the board with a pretty tally from classmate Elizabeth Young with approximately 50 ticks left before intermission.
Right about that time, the skies above RIC opened, and Cardone and LHS chief Chris Allen had to prepare their kids for the second half under drizzle.
What Allen hadn't anticipated was how fired up Cardone's crew would be once it started the session.
For the first few minutes, the Lions – as they had in the first – dominated. In fact, Lincoln had outshot its foe, 7-3, while gaining more corner kicks, 7-2.
That all turned 6:40 into the half. That's when Ross pushed a stellar pass from the middle to Libby, who spun around a defender and launched a 20-yarder above freshman keeper Jianna Iaciofano and under the crossbar to knot it at 1-1.
When asked what message she had delivered in the rain, Cardone just smiled, “They came up around me, and I said, 'Are you having fun?' and they just looked at me. I told them, 'It doesn't look like it.' I only asked them to work hard, put the ball in the net and the rest would follow.
“It was the same speech I gave them Friday night, when we were behind Pilgrim, 1-0,” she added of an eventual 3-1 BHS semifinal win. “I told them to do the same things they did in that game again, and they did.”
Explained Libby: “She said that we weren't going to win if we didn't have fun, so we decided to have fun as a team, just like we've done all season. We knew if we didn't, we weren't going to score and we weren't going to win.”
Less than nine minutes later, at the 55:26 mark, Libby poked a feed from the middle at Antoniello, who was stationed just inside the left corner of the penalty box. She crushed a left-footer curler inside the left post to give the Broncos their first lead of the game.
What followed exactly three minutes and 50 seconds later is best described as miraculous, and Libby involved herself once more. While dribbling through the middle, she saw Antoniello on her left and sent a perfect boot in her direction. Antoniello took it to the deep left corner, then fired a shot that eluded Iaciofano and bubbled the upper right corner's netting.
That gave Burrillville a 3-1 advantage, and the Bronco fans in the stands went ballistic.
“That's just talent,” Ross laughed afterward, then stated, “honestly, that was an incredible goal, but I've seen her do that before.”
Only 3:43 after, with 17:01 left in regulation, Ross gathered a deflection in the middle of the offensive zone and wheeled around a Lion before drilling a high, 34-yard liner over Antoniello.
The contest, however, was hardly over. With 15:35 remaining, sophomore Maya LaFleur raced in on a breakaway and booted a low screamer at her left post, but a leaning junior netminder Catherine Keable knocked it away.
Lincoln assembled another opportunity to tighten the gap, but couldn't get it past Keable, who registered 11 saves. Iaciofano, who had replaced standout junior Lauren Hervieux in the cage on Friday night (Hervieux had sustained an astonishing knee injury in the final two minutes of a Thursday afternoon practice) finished with nine.
While the offense exploded, the Broncos received plenty of superb defensive efforts, and they came from junior Sydney Blais, sophomore Mikaela Messier, freshman Caitlin Libby (Tori's kid sister) and junior Isis VanPutten, who played back once Burrillville went up a pair.
As for the Lions' “D,” stalwarts included sophomore Lauren Christo, who played 80 minutes with gusto; senior tri-captain Erin Gannon; and juniors Young and Faithe Fernandez.
“We absolutely had a successful year,” stated Allen, whose team hadn't lost all season before Sunday and recorded a phenomenal 14-1-2 slate. “This team has played like a team all season, and that's why we were unbeaten before today. I give our girls a lot of credit.”
Noted Ross: “I can promise you that no team wanted this more than this one did. We were a little monotone at the start of the (second) half, but it didn't take long for us to get it going. We were down, 1-0, to Pilgrim, and we got the same speech from Coach (Cardone). She said to have fun, but also asked us who wanted it more.
“Of course, we said we did, and we proved it. This is amazing!”