BARRE TOWN — A strong sense of deja vu started to sink in for Spaulding entering the final minutes of Tuesday’s field hockey game.
Locked in a scoreless battle with North Country, the Crimson Tide were in danger of settling for a tie despite holding a 28-0 advantage on penalty corners. A week earlier Spaulding tied Missisquoi after dominating penalty corners, 20-1.
With 3:52 remaining, Anna DeAlmeida helped Spaulding avoid the same fate.
DeAlmeida scored the game-winning goal on a Morgan Mast assist, sealing a 1-0 victory to help the Tide improve to 7-1-2. Spaulding pushed its unbeaten run to four games and preserved its streak of scoring in every game this season.
“It was pretty long and drawn-out,” DeAlmeida said. “It’s really muddy and there’s puddles out there, so we were slipping and sliding all over the place. But we moved the ball really well and stayed down within our 25 for most of the time, so I’m proud of everyone. We had a lot of corners and at least we finished on one.”
North Country goalie Kristen Watters made 14 saves in addition to kicking away lots of loose balls inside the circle. Mast dribbled toward the left post midway through the first half and crossed to the far side, where Kiernan Krasofski fired a one-time shot just wide.
Although Spaulding dominated the first 20 minutes, North Country responded by establishing control for stretches during the end of the first half. At the start of the second half, Ireland Abdo and Elizabeth Scherer gave the Falcons a strong midfield presence, leading to a few more offensive chances.
“(North Country) had some beautiful sprints down the field,” Spaulding midfielder Madison Henderson said. “Especially when there’s those fast breakaways, I get a little nervous. But that just makes us midfielders sprint harder to get back and help our defense. I have the utmost confidence in my girls and they always are where they need to be. I think we had really good movement to the sides today and then passing up to the offensive players, which set us up for some really nice corners throughout the game. It’s always fun playing them and they’re always a good match for us.”
Spaulding’s Isabella Bevins inserted back-to-back penalty corners with 20 minutes remaining, but defenders Alexis Demers and Bailey Arkley helped the Falcons destroy each chance. A few minutes later Mast beat two opponents on the left side before watching Watters boot away another shot. A minute later DeAlmeida and a Falcons defender locked sticks in front of the North Country goal, with both players digging in for five seconds before the ball was cleared.
”We were prepared because we had watched our game film from last year,” DeAlmeida said. “We knew that they were going to do a lot of aerials and lifting. But I think we handled it pretty well.”
Bevins served in another penalty corner with 16:30 on the clock and then darted in front of the goal mouth to redirect a shot at the near post. Watters spotted the deflection at the last second and made an acrobatic reaction save.
A minute later DeAlmeida collected a loose ball, spun around the top of the circle and chopped a weak-side pass to Bevins outside the left post. Watters stayed within a foot of the goal line the whole time and extended her left leg to knock away a one-time scoring bid by Bevins. Mast, DeAlmeida and Bevins never stopped threatening Watters, but gritty defending by Julia Baker and Natalie Desjardins kept the Falcons in the fight. With 8:45 remaining Spaulding’s Samantha Donahue unleashed a high-powered shot following a corner and Demers blocked the bid with her leg.
“We spent some time after our last game really focusing on corners and making some adjustments on our corners, and we’ve got them nailed in,” Spaulding coach Tabitha Lord said. “But it’s hard when you send it in and you’re hitting the opposite team’s foot. North Country just crowded the circle and they put all their players there. We got corner after corner, and finally that worked out to our advantage because they just couldn’t keep up with our passing.”
A packed home crowd went wild when Spaulding surged ahead at the end. Bevins inserted a bouncing penalty corner from the right side to Mast, who sent a pass toward Donahue near the end line. Demers and Baker stepped out to double-team Donahue, but she played the ball through a defender’s legs and back out to Mast. The three-sport standout stepped forward and immediately lifted a high pass toward the right post. Watters made an initial save but DeAlmeida tucked away the rebound.
“In the first half our issue was that we just weren’t getting to rebounds,” Mast said. “We obviously had a huge advantage on corners — it’s just something we’ve been struggling with this year. But they had some solid defenders and they were good at putting a lot of pressure on.”
Jaylynn Emmons and the other Tide midfielders rarely allowed the Falcons’ attacking players to control the ball past midfield for most of the second half. Spaulding goalie Abigail Stacy did not have to make a single save during her fourth shutout of the season.
“Jaylynn Emmons was amazing with continuous dodges and stops on the right side of the field during the second half,” Henderson said. “She did a great job moving that ball up to Zoe Tewksbury on offense. Sam (Donahue) runs all over the place and she was running it into the circle. I thought she was going to get a goal there for awhile.”
North Country (3-6-2) will host Montpelier at 4 p.m. Friday. The Tide will travel to play Stowe (7-2) at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re ranked fourth right now,” Mast said. “And if we can get a couple more wins, especially on the road, I think we’ll have a pretty good seed for playoffs.”