Falcons' defense stifles BBA, eliminates Bulldogs
MANCHESTER — The North Country girls soccer team was determined to make the three-hour trip back up to Newport with a win in tow.
The No. 7 seed Falcons took everything No. 2 Burr and Burton had to offer and didn't break, upsetting the Bulldogs 1-0 in the Division I quarterfinals Friday afternoon at Taylor Field.
The win propels North Country to its first state semifinals since 1998.
In a game, where defense ruled the day, junior forward Riann Fortin netted the only goal, with less than two minutes to play in the first half. Fortin struck a ball high from outside the box and it sailed too far up for Bulldogs keeper Carol Herbert to make contact with it on her jump as it found the back of the net.
The Falcons knew how potent BBA can be scoring the ball. In particular, they had to plan for how to slow down Bulldogs senior forward Grace Pinkus, who led BBA with 23 goals this season.
Pinkus had a some room to move early, but once North Country adjusted, the senior was stifled by constant marking and double teams.
"We let her loose a little bit at the start of the game, but then we put [Grace Giroux] on her," said Falcons coach Jose Batista. "[Grace] is a tremendous player."
Especially in the first half, the Bulldogs couldn't produce many viable scoring chances. A header from Pinkus that sailed over the net was the best opportunity BBA mustered across the first 40 minutes.
Whenever the Bulldogs looked to make a run, there was always a Falcons defender there to greet them and clear the ball out.
"[North Country] always kind of had two to our one [player]," said BBA coach Suzanne Mears. "We just couldn't get our through balls. We couldn't keep possession and unfortunately couldn't get the ball in the back of the net."
The grit of the North Country defense was tested when starting keeper Addison Cook went down with an injury early in the first half after a collision with BBA's Rowan Russell. Cook made two saves before the injury and was replaced by junior McKenna Marquis.
The Falcons didn't skip a beat with the goalie change and Marquis made some great decisions in goal to thwart away potential BBA runs.
"McKenna came in and did a good job," Batista said. "She stuffed a couple of people and she did okay."
Marquis started off the second half in goal, before Cook came back in.
BBA controlled more possession in the second half and looked to have a potential equalizer on many occasions.
About 11 minutes into the half, Pinkus got the ball on her foot for a contested run through the left side of the defense and struck a dart at the goal, but it sailed a bit high and off the football crossbar.
Ten minutes later, she had another great run toward the goal, but before she could get a shot off, Cook came out to stuff her.
The Bulldogs pressed hard for the equalizing tally through the latter portion of the contest.
"We gave everything we could, especially that last 15 minutes or so," Mears said.
North County's defense stepped up just as it had all day and was determined to keep BBA off the board. The Falcons clogged the passing lanes, cleared out potential chances and marked supremely well in those waning minutes.
"Our back four is really strong. It's a mixture of juniors and seniors," Batista said. "They just clog up the middle. They play with each other and step up and step back. It makes it frustrating for the other team."
The Falcons improve to 13-2-1 with the win and set a new program single-season win mark in the process. North Country travels to play either No. 3 Colchester or No. 6 Essex on Wednesday.
Friday's loss was just the third time this season BBA was held off the board.
The Bulldogs finish their season at 11-4.
"I told them that I was proud of them. We had a terrific season," Mears said. "These things happen and we move on and grow from here."
Adam Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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