TURNER — When Spruce Mountain made the decision to leave the Class C-dominated MVC for the Class A- and Class B-heavy KVAC, one of the hopes was that its teams would be better prepared for their annual foray into the Western Class B playoff bracket into which they are customarily thrown.
That the Phoenix justified the thinking at the expense of a budding rival was an added bonus.
Nicole Hamblin and Emily Hogan scored five minutes apart in the first half and Spruce Mountain held off a dominant Leavitt squad in the second half to earn a 2-0 win over the Hornets in their Western Class C field hockey semifinal on Tuesday.
“We knew at halftime that’s what we were going to see coming out from the break,” Spruce Mountain co-coach Julia Parker said. “We got two goals and were able to hold onto it. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They were knocking at the door and we were fortunate that they didn’t get to capitalize.”
“Today, I think today was just our day,” Spruce Mountain co-coach Jane DiPompo added.
The Phoenix advance to Thursday’s Western Class B final to face perennial powerhouse York High School after avenging a late-season loss on home turf to this same Leavitt team.
“It’s always good to win when it matters,” Hogan said.
“It was almost like we were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win,” Leavitt coach Wanda Ward-McLean said. “It just took us too long to get going.”
Grace Ryan needed only two saves in the first half, but stood tall with seven more in the second as the Hornets applied steady pressure to earn the shutout, her fourth of the season but second in the playoffs.
“Grace is a backbone for us,” DiPompo said. “As a junior, knowing the’s coming back, that makes it even better.”
To its credit, Leavitt did not make Ryan’s job easy. Facing a two-goal deficit to begin the second frame, the Hornets buzzed the cage for most of the final 30 minutes.
“How many did we miss, right there?” Ward-McLean said, pointing toward the cage. “Any other day, we touch those and they go in. Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.”
Twice Leavitt snuck the ball behind Ryan on penalty corner plays, and twice a player fanned on the ball at the post.
“All we needed was to settle the ball and push it in,” Ward-McLean said. “I think they got a bit too anxious, and they tried to kill it. I think everyone was maybe trying too hard.”
The Hornets earned 11 penalty corners in the second half alone, but generated only seven shots from those opportunities.
“They had a lot of intensity and they’re a really good team,” Hogan said. “I’m just glad we stuck with it, we stayed composed and put it away.”
The Phoenix, meanwhile, dominated the first half in similar fashion. They, however, found the back of the cage twice, first when Hamblin redirected a shot from Kaylee Leclerc that eluded Leavitt keeper Hailey DeMascio and trickled across the goal line at 18:08. The ball slipped through the freshman keeper’s pads to Hamblin, who was waiting with her stick down on the line.
Spruce Mountain led 1-0 in the teams’ previous meeting, as well, a 2-1 Leavitt win in Jay.
“We knew that once we scored, we’d get a boost of energy,” Hogan said. “As soon as we got that one, we knew we needed to pick it up and get another one right away.”
Hogan added the insurance tally less than four minutes later. She was camped out next to DeMascio when Morgan Fournier fired the ball in from the top of the circle. The keeper made the initial stop, but Hogan swept in the rebound.
“I was standing on post and I knew if the ball came to me, that I needed to whack it in,” Hogan said.
DeMascio, a freshman starting her first varsity game, was solid all afternoon, finishing with eight saves. She was pressed into service after starter Ashley Kelly missed the game for disciplinary reasons.
“She made some nice stops,” Ward-McLean said. “She’s … a freshman. The captains, the seniors and others, too, they stepped up and played hard. Unfortunately we just couldn’t put the ball in the net.”