SMITHFIELD — It’s a program that has won in stunning fashion, that has delivered underdog scripts to make Hollywood proud, that has won with dramatic finishes.
The North Kingstown High School field hockey team ran out of time on its quest for more playoff magic Sunday afternoon and ran into a team bent on holding them off.
After falling behind top-seeded East Greenwich 2-0 in the first half of the state championship game at Bryant University, the No. 2 Skippers had the upper hand in the second half but got only halfway there in a comeback attempt. Dempsey Campbell’s goal with 1:15 left was the only tally for the Skippers as the Avengers hung on for a 2-1 victory and the championship.
“Tale of two halves,” North Kingstown head coach Julie Maguire said. “We got behind in the first half and had to try to dig ourselves out of a hole. I was just happy that my team was able to rebound and play a much better second half. We needed about another 10 minutes.”
East Greenwich won its first championship since 2010, while sending the Skippers to their first championship round loss since 2000. They had been victorious in their previous seven title berths; if they went, they were winning.
Sunday’s matchup had the makings of a similar coronation. In September, the Skippers suffered a stunning 6-0 loss to East Greenwich in the season opener. They lost once more, then reeled off 14 consecutive wins, including a 1-0 triumph in a rematch with the Avengers, plus a semifinal win over Moses Brown.
But their nemesis from the opener had something to say about the surge. The ball barely left East Greenwich’s offensive side of the field in the first 15 minutes of Sunday’s game. The Avengers turned all the possession into a 1-0 lead with 13:04 left in the first half when a shot by Tiernan McEwen found its way inside the left post.
Then, with 3:25 left in the half, Isabella Atalay knocked in a cross on the right post for the 2-0 lead.
“I just saw the ball coming flat across the goal,” Atalay said. “I knew we needed this to win. We have been working so hard for this all year, from the beginning of the summer, to the end of the season. This was our time to finally win the championship.”
The Skippers had threatened a few times, most notably on a big shot by Campbell with 17 minutes left that Jessie Imbriglio turned away with a kick save. But for the most part, the first 30 minutes belonged to the Avengers.
“For my team, I think the first half had a little bit to do with nerves – not being able to think about what we were trying to execute,” Maguire said. “We refocused at halftime.”
It worked, as the action tilted toward the Skippers in the second half. They drew three corners and generated several other chances. Imbriglio stopped five more shots to finish with six saves, and the Avenger defense held strong.
“We all decided to get back on defense, because we knew we had to protect our goal,” Atalay said. “It mattered most that we not let any balls get in.”
The Skippers finally broke through off a corner, when a rebound of a Faith Powers shot came to Campbell, who muscled it in. The Skippers lost possession off the ensuing restart, regained it at the 33-second mark but couldn’t get close enough for a final shot as hopes for another signature playoff moment faded.
While East Greenwich celebrated, Maguire told her team how proud she was that they were there. After all, it didn’t seem possible after the first time they played East Greenwich.
“Incredible. Considering we lost to EG 6-0 at the beginning of the season, I’m very proud of the girls,” Maguire said. “They’ve come a long way. It was a well-earned opportunity to play in this game.”