Stonington Borough, CT
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PROVIDENCE — Chariho High girls’ lacrosse coach Michelle Tebbets said she knew her team had a chance to make a long postseason run after the Chargers’ second win over Pilgrim High of Warwick.
Now Chariho will have to beat Pilgrim once again if they are to win the program’s first state-level championship.
The top-seeded Chargers (13-1, 11-0 Division III) will play No. 3 Pilgrim (8-4, 8-3) in the Division III final at Brown University on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Chargers beat the Patriots in both regular season meetings —12-11 at home on April 11 and 17-7 at Pilgrim on May 2.
“The first time we beat Pilgrim we just snuck by them. The second time we won 17-7 and then we knew the girls had it in them to score that many goals. I just watched the tape of the first game against Pilgrim and we’re a different team right now,” Tebbets said.
Chariho reached the final by beating No. 8 Scituate 17-5 and No. 4 Mount St. Charles 10-7. The Chargers needed to come from behind three times in the second half of their seminal win over the Mounties.
Pilgrim downed No. 6 Westerly 16-5 and No. 2 Smithfield 10-9 to reach Saturday’s championship game.
Tebbets is honest about the fact that the team feels Pilgrim has become its rival in Division III, probably even more so than neighboring Westerly. The games between Chariho and Pilgrim have been close through the years and Tebbets said the Patriots are the most aggressive and physical team they’ve played this season, which has helped fuel the rivalry.
“The rivalry just kind of appeared one day,” she said. “The way Pilgrim plays, they are here to play against the other team and they’re willing to beat you into the ground. It’s hard for the girls not to take it personally but they just have to play for themselves.”
Tebbets said the Chargers’ defense will have their eye on Pilgrim’s attacker Haley McCusker. Tebbets said the job of shutting down McCusker will likely fall on defender Amanda Picozzi.
“McCusker is pretty much the best scorer they have on the team She knows where to place the ball and as long as we can shut her down we’ll be OK. The last time we played them she was playing in different positions, they moved her so she would be where the ball was,” Tebbets said.
Leading the Chariho attack all season has been Jenna Brierly who scored seven goals in the first Pilgrim game and six in the second. The senior leads Chariho in goals scored with 67 and assists with 21. She holds the school record for career goals, goals in a season, career assists, and assist in a season.
As a team Chariho has outscored the opposition 194-99 this season.
Chariho’s second-best scoring option has been Paige Pajarillo who has 40 goals and 19 assists going into the final. Samantha Orciari has 18 goals while Abby Cuddy and Maisie Jones have 17 apiece.
Tebbets said Pilgrim’s defense will likely come out to meet the Chariho attack aggressively, just as it has in the first two meetings.
“They play defense much different than us. They’ll play right on you and not give you a chance to pass. We’ll have to pull them out and win 1-v-1 chances when we get them,” Tebbets said.
While the second win over Pilgrim cemented Tebbets’ belief her team could go far in the playoffs, she said it was apparent right off the bat her squad may have the tools to build on lats year’s semifinal run.
“The first day of preseason I went to go over all of my plays from last year and I saw it was elementary for them. They really didn’t need to go over it that much, by the second day we were ahead of where we were a week into practice the year before.
“They want to learn, I even taught them a few new plays today (Thursday). They are really focused and if they make a mistake they know how to fix it,” Tebbets said.
Chariho’s only loss was 17-14 in a nonleaguer against Division II Warwick Vets on April 17. Vets finished 6-7 overall and 4-7 in D-II.
One would think the 17-7 win over Pilgrim could lead to a bit of overconfidence but Tebbets said that won’t happen.
“The girls know that Pilgrim is tough,” she said. “I want the girls walking in there knowing they have to leave everything on the field. They know this is our last game, they know Friday (today) is the last practice and they are just so excited, and sad at the same time, and soaking it in.
“I’m glad we’re playing in the championship and I’m glad we’re playing a team that’s going to put up a fight. I think it will be a good game to watch and the girls will enjoy playing in it.”