Apex Friendship could not have picked a better – or more thrilling – way to kick off its girls’ lacrosse program.
After losing an 11-9 lead with less than three minutes remaining in regulation at home against Panther Creek on a chilly Wednesday night, the freshmen- and sophomore-laden Patriots found a way.
First, freshman Bella Herrera somehow broke free from several Catamounts to fire in the game-tying goal with 5.3 seconds left.
Then, in sudden-death overtime, sophomore Grace Fleming – a starter at PC last season – won it with a free shot from the left of the Catamount goal. Patriots players erupted in cheers, as did the small but hearty crowd.
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“Very, very cool,” said Friendship coach Peter DeStaebler, who coached the Catamounts from 2007-08 and 10-13. “Couldn’t have pictured it like this. It’s very cool, very cool.
“The excitement, the enthusiasm, you saw it. The fans were cheering us. (We had) the belief that we weren’t going to let this game slip away from us. The credit goes to all the girls.”
Many may not have expected the Patriots to win in the first game in school history, perhaps even some Friendship players.
“I think we did,” Fleming said. “I think we knew we had what it took. … There were some doubts, but I feel like once we got in the game, we got in the zone. We believed in ourselves, and we got it done.”
PC coach Allison DuChon managed to smile after the game, knowing her team played tough to the end.
“We all fought really hard,” DuChon said. “There’s no reason we should leave with our head held low. I’m really proud of our girls. It’s exciting when it’s back and forth. Who likes a blowout? That’s pretty boring. This one kept everyone on their toes.”
Fleming came up with a groundball after a mad scramble just inside the PC circle in overtime, and the whistle blew almost immediately. Fleming was awarded a free shot, and she moved in and whistled the winning goal by Catamount goalie Adele Namboodri.
“It was pretty messy in there,” Fleming said. “I’m not sure what exactly (the call) was, and it was kind of a daze, honestly. But I was glad to get that call. I’ve been working on (free shots) because I feel those are kind of my weakest points. I missed one at the beginning of the game, so I was really nervous when I was getting line up top take that.
They said it
“It was a lot of adrenaline, that’s for sure,” Fleming said of the final two minutes, 30 seconds, after Friendship blew an 11-9 lead to trail 12-11. But Herrera saved the day with her sixth goal of the game.
Three who mattered
Grace Fleming, Apex Friendship: The ending was storybook for the former PC player, but she wanted to talk about her Patriot teammates.
“We’re new here, so we’re learning how to work together,” said Fleming, who scored five goals. “I think it’s coming together pretty nicely for us. I give all of it to (my teammates) because they’re so awesome and so supportive.”
Abbi Pagano, Panther Creek: The sophomore scored six goals, including the first of a three-goal comeback that tied the game.
Bella Herrera, Apex Friendship: The Friendship freshman scored six goals and had an assist.
Freshman Ashley Fink was solid in her first game for Panther Creek, scoring three goals and getting three assists. Her final two goals were especially clutch, tying the game with 57.6 seconds left and then putting her team up 12-11 with 35.3 seconds remaining. Both came when Fink drove from behind the net to angle in front and score.
In overtime, Fink was nearly the hero, picking up a groundball to give the Catamounts possession. She fired one shot wide of the goal and then hit the crossbar with another.
PC is a young team, too, with only one senior starting. The Catamounts graduated 11 players from last year, returning only three starters. But Pagano, Fink and freshman Claire Reist (two goals) give DuChon a solid offensive trio.
“Abbi, Claire and Ashley all have phenomenal chemistry, and they all work together and kind of know what the next person is going to do,” DuChon said. “That works out well for us.”
For the trio’s first game, it was a terrific effort. But Pagano knows they’ll need to bring it every game.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Pagano said. “We have a young team, but I’m excited to play with these girls. Wins or losses, it’s still going to be a fun experience and a fun time.”