PROVIDENCE — The Chariho High comeback kids did it again.
Down by five goals with 20 minutes left in Saturday’s Division III girls’ lacrosse championship game, the Chargers scored six unanswered goals to pull out a thrilling 9-8 win against Pilgrim at Brown University’s Stevenson Field. It was Chariho’s first trip to the division finals and its first state-level championship in its seven-year program history.
Top-seeded Chariho (14-1 overall and undefeated at 11-0 in Division III-South) had come from behind three times in the second half of its 10-7 semifinal win against Mount St. Chariles on Tuesday. Third-seeded Pilgrim (10-5, 8-3 Division II-South) also lost in the finals to Narraganset last year.
“It feels really, really good to win this championship,” Chariho coach Michelle Tebbets said. “I love this team. I loved every minute of every game. I helped them learn what they needed to be the champs. And they did.”
Junior midfielder Payton St. Lawrence scored the winning goal with 8 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game. She had been awarded a free-position after a foul within the restraining line. St. Lawrence moved toward the crease and bounced the ball past the Patriot goalkeeper to put the Chargers ahead for the first time since early in the first half.
“I knew we were tied and needed a goal to go ahead,” St. Lawrence said. “I was nervous when I had that chance to score. When I scored, our whole team came around and hugged me. I was proud of myself. But it was the whole team that deserves the credit for getting us here.
“Our team is so excited to get our program this far. We worked really hard. Nobody gave up today. We kept on the pressure to the very end.”
The pressure mounted on both teams for the last eight minutes of the game. Pilgrim’s leading scorer Haley McCusker bounced a shot over the net. Chariho’s Paige Pajarillo had her bouncer blocked. The Patriots’ Emma Reilly’s shot went wide left. And Pajarillo’s bouncer was blocked with 2:29 left.
The Chargers managed to control the ball for the final two minutes. The game-ending whistle blew and the title was theirs.
“We came up short for the second year in a row,” Pilgrim coach Tom Flanders said. “The name of the game is possession. We won draws and controlled possession for most of the game. But the second half of the second half was theirs. Without the ball, you can’t score. That was the difference in the game.
“Chariho hadn’t lost a game (in division play) all year. They beat us twice during the regular season. And they demonstrated today how resilient they are.”
The Chargers controlled most of the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s game, after McCuster shocked them with a goal just 44 seconds into the game. Chariho’s leading scorer Jenna Brierly broke the ice with an unassisted goal less than four minutes later. Samantha Orciari then scored twice within 2½ minutes to give Chariho a 3-0 lead with 10:13 left in the 25-minute half.
The Patriots came roaring back with five straight goals to lead 6-3 at halftime. McCusker had three of those goals. The Pilgrim assault continued when Reilly and McCuster scored within the first five minutes of the second half for what seemed to be an insurmountable 8-3 Patriot lead.
The Chargers refused to buckle and scored three goals in the next five minutes to close the gap to two — a Pajarillo goal assisted by Izzy Rinne, and unassisted goals by Rinne and Orciari.
Megan Kirby halved the deficit to one by scoring with 10:38 left in the game. And Pajarillo took a looping pass from Brierly and lined a shot into the net less than a minute later to tie the game at 8-8. That paved the way for the St. Lawrence game-winner 1:23 later.
Orciari totaled three goals for Chariho and was named the championship game’s outstanding player. The junior attacker also had a hat-trick in wins over Westerly on May 13 and the North Smithfield/Burrillville co-op team on May 21.
“I was just the person who got the ball in the net today,” Orciari said. “My teammates got it to me.
“I feel ecstatic about the championship. I knew if we all came together we’d win. “After we started coming back, our adrenaline was pumping. We worked as a team. We knew we had the potential to do it.
“And we wanted to do it for her, our coach. That made us even more motivated. We had to step up our game and we did.”
The Chariho defense held firm for most of the second half, shutting out the Patriots for the final 20 minutes. Chariho goalkeeper Maddie Newman had eight saves on 19 Pilgrim shots on goal. Chariho had 17 shots on goal.
“I told them before the game to play smart and play for the team, not against the other team,” Tebbets said. “And I told them at halftime to focus on their teammates and not to let them down. The comeback vibrated through the whole team. It wasn’t me. It was them.”