NASHUA | In the girls and boys Class L soccer finals, a few inches meant the difference between exhilarating go-ahead goals and heartbreaking loss.
The slightest change could have effected both the upstart Pinkerton girls and the fourth-seeded Londonderry boys, who fell by one goal margins, 2-1 in overtime and 1-0, respectively.
The Pinkerton girls were tied with Exeter 1-1 in the 56th minute, and senior captain Bree Robinson used her gazelle-like speed to separate herself from a defender and get around the Exeter goaltender in the box. There was nothing between Robinson and a likely state championship but eight yards of FieldTurf and the tantalizing, gaping mouth of the goal.
However, Robinson was at full speed, quickly moving away from the net and toward the corner. Her awkward, left-footed attempt to bury the ball rolled lazily toward the goal line, and it was still beyond the reach of the backwards-charging Exeter defenders, but it glanced off the outside of the left post. The Astros' attack looked menacing later in the game, but it never had a chance like that again, and Pinkerton eventually fell to the defending state champs in overtime.
Plays like that, Robinson said, can haunt you.
"Every time, you just replay corner kicks (in your head) and think, 'I could have gone a little higher to score that goal,' " Robinson said.
"But," she added, "you can't go back, you know?"
It's been said a million times: (Insert sport here) is a game of inches. But perhaps in soccer, more than any other sport, any number of variables can mean the difference between a goal and a missed opportunity.
Proximity of defense, force with which the ball is struck, wind direction and speed, goaltender position, pace of the ballcarrier, etc. all determine the outcome of a game in some small way, especially games as tightly-played as these.
"I thought we had enough chances to win," said Londonderry assistant coach Derek Dane. "We hit one off the bar 10 minutes in. Then (Robbie) McLarney hit one off the bar. A little spin here, a bounce goes differently, and we get one of them. Then it's a different game."
In the end, though, it was a split-second hesitation that ended Londonderry's season.
On a penalty kick in the 38th minute, Londonderry keeper Andrew Pescia cheated slightly to his right and dove back to his left at the offering from Brad Hilton. Improbably, he stopped it, as well as the rebound that Hilton hit back at him. But the second time, the ball dribbled not to his front but to the side. The mad dash for the loose ball began.
"They reacted to it faster than we did," Dane said simply. "It's difficult in a penalty situation because you're watching, then it's all reaction."
The late-arriving backline was too late. It was beaten to the ball by Merrimack's Chris Ywoskus, who bulged the net with a backbreaking strike.
"I had it in my hands, and he knocked it right out," said Pescia.
Late in the game, as Londonderry spread out its offense, it was getting chances, but there began to be too many "justs" piling up for the Lancers to overcome. Headers were going just wide, passes were just off the mark, shots just glanced off the crossbar and throw-ins were just over the heads of Lancers attackers.
Pescia, like Robinson, begrudgingly accepts his, and his team's, fate.
"I'm O.K.," he said with a shrug. "Nothing you can do about it now."
Those are the type of things that balance out over the course of a season. Unfortunately for the Astros and Lancers, when there's no more season to be played, the scales can seem painfully weighted to your disadvantage.
This Week's Circulars
This Week's Circulars
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