LITCHFIELD — Zoe Buteau channelled all of her remaining energy, all of her raw emotion from a tough week, and all of the skill she’s worked so hard at perfecting into one of the sweetest field hockey goals of the season Wednesday at Carrie Ricker School.

That the Oak Hill sophomore’s goal came with 26.7 seconds remaining in the second overtime of a game against MVC rival and top title contender Winthrop was, surprisingly, less relevant than one might think.

On this day, it was all relevant.

Buteau’s strike, which came at the tail end of a spin-o-rama move around a Winthrop defender, punctuated a teeter-totter test of top teams, lifting the host Raiders to a 2-1 win and cementing their place — at least for now — at the top of the Class C South standings.

“The whole game, I was like, ‘I need to score,'” Buteau said. “I just wanted to do it for my little cousin. All the games since that happened, I just wanted to do it for him. When (Gilbert) pulled us out, I told myself, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this.'”

Buteau’s little cousin, only an infant, passed away recently. Oak Hill coach Betsy Gilbert said the tragedy has weighed on Buteau’s mind, but has also driven the young athlete to succeed.

In overtime, which in field hockey shrinks the playing roster to six field players and a goalie, the teams’ depth came into question, and even the speedy Buteau needed a break, to which she reluctantly agreed midway through the second overtime frame.

“At the overtime, that is key, keeping fresh legs in there,” Gilbert said. “In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to keep the same girls in there seven-on-seven the whole time. I learned from that years ago.”

“We were all tired, and (Gilbert) was bringing us all in and out,” said Buteau, who also admitted to delaying her exit as long as she could.

“I heard her, but I just wanted to keep on playing,” she said.

Gilbert nearly missed her chance to put Buteau back in the game, but snuck her in as play whizzed past the near sideline in the waning minutes.

“Just had to give her a quick little break,” Gilbert said. “The play was right there, it was just, I don’t even know how many seconds were left, but it was less than a minute. Mercedes (Pease) hadn’t been out all day, and I knew she was tired, so I threw in fresh legs and off we went.”

“I was still winded,” Buteau admitted.

The ball popped free in the middle of the field and Buteau raced for the top of the circle. She gathered the ball, started to play to her off-hand, and quickly reversed direction, sending a bullet past Winthrop keeper Corinna Coulton, and her team’s bench into a frenzy.

“We’ve been working on that in practice, spinning out and being able to come back strong stick,” Gilbert said, “instead of coming in reverse stick and not getting off a strong enough shot.”

“When I went back in, I just turned around, got it, and it went in,” Buteau said, now choking back tears. “I was so happy. It blew my mind.”

The goal was the climax of a tightly contested battle between teams with state title aspirations. The loss is just Winthrop’s second of the season — both of them coming to Oak Hill.

“We moved better (than the last game against them), we executed better, we had our opportunities,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said. “We just couldn’t finish.”

In the seven-on-seven overtime sessions, the Ramblers (9-2-1) held the territorial advantage for most of the 15-plus minutes.

“We play pretty well in the seven-v-seven, but those girls were tired,” Merrill said. “We were down a few players today so we didn’t have as many subs as we usually have.

“The girls who went in held them off pretty well,” Merrill added. “I rotated Bri McClure, who usually plays forward for me, I moved her back on defense, and she really stepped up big for us. We changed our formation to more of a defensive-minded formation since that’s where we were missing people.”

Oak Hill peppered Coulton in the opening half, and the Winthrop keeper was solid, keeping the score even while the Ramblers settled down.

“She kept us in the game the entire time,” Merrill said. “We played a lot more defense in the first half than we did in the second half. We’ve been doing a lot of things with her in practice. We know they come off the ball well, and she followed the ball really well.”

The teams traded goals late in the first half, each on their first penalty corner chance of the contest.

Sarah Spahr gave the visitors a 1-0 lead with 3:09 to play when she banked home a rebound off of Oak Hill keeper MacKenzie Thibeault’s pads. The Raiders’ Abby Asselin responded in kind on a feed from Pease only six seconds before the break.

“What a game, though,” Gilbert said. “It was a great battle, a great fight. They’re great competitors, and we knew exactly what we were in for — long day, long battle.”


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