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PROVIDENCE â€” Lincoln Highâ€™s perfect season came to an end at the hands of â€¦ a perfect season.
In Saturdayâ€™s clash between two unbeaten teams trying to etch their names into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League history books, it was Tiverton that emerged with an unblemished record â€” and the Division II state championship.
A late second-half comeback fell short for the Lions, who watched the Tigers celebrate a 12-8 victory at Rhode Island College to cap a 17-0 campaign.
Jill DeSimone and Ashley Moreau netted hat tricks for second-seeded Lincoln, which reeled off a 14-0 regular season before disposing of No. 7 Narragansett and No. 3 Portsmouth to reach the finals.
Even with Saturdayâ€™s loss, it was impossible to ignore the progress made by a Lincoln squad that won two games last year and hadnâ€™t registered more than four victories in any of the previous nine seasons.
â€śThis team has come a long way,â€ť said Lions coach Susan Renzi, who has overseen the program since its infancy in 2001. â€śThis just wasnâ€™t their day, thatâ€™s all.â€ť
The day belonged to several members of the top-seeded Tigers, particularly Megan Raposa, named the gameâ€™s Most Valuable Player for her four-goal effort, and goalkeeper Alexandra Azevedo.
What figured to be a competitive contest was precisely that in the first half, a session that concluded with Tiverton holding a 5-4 edge.
The Tigers raced out to a 4-1 lead through 17:07 of play, prompting Renzi to use her first timeout.
â€śIâ€™m not really sure if we were ready to play today,â€ť DeSimone said. â€śThere were a lot of nerves, but I think they passed the ball better, they were a lot quicker than us, and they capitalized on their opportunities, and we didnâ€™t.â€ť
Still, it was a timeout well spent, as the Lions closed the opening half on a 3-1 run to pull within a goal at the intermission.
DeSimoneâ€™s third tally of the game tied the score at five 3:52 into the second half, but Tiverton responded with five unanswered goals, one of which came after goalkeeper Nina Fournierâ€™s outlet pass was intercepted feet front of the cage by Kara Lotz.
Suddenly trailing 10-5, a Lincoln team that entered Saturday averaging more than 13 goals per game rallied for one last charge. Moreauâ€™s back-to-back tallies keyed a 3-1 spurt to move the Lions within an 11-8 deficit with 1:40 left in regulation.
But the Tigers -- â€śdefinitely the best team weâ€™ve played by far,â€ť DeSimone said -- had an answer. They always did.
Maya Bergandyâ€™s tally with 50 seconds remaining ensured a happy ending to the career of her teammate standing on the other end of the field.
â€śI couldnâ€™t have asked for a better way to end my senior year,â€ť said Azevedo, who finished with 17 saves. â€śThe team is like my second family, and I donâ€™t even want to leave them. I wish the season wasnâ€™t over, but this was just an amazing way to end it.â€ť
Not so amazing for Lincoln, but a learning experience nonetheless.
â€śTheyâ€™ve just got to keep their chins up and come back next year,â€ť said Renzi, who returns the vast majority of her squad for the 2012 season. â€śWe have another shot at it next year.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s always hard, because you remember the last game,â€ť said DeSimone, a junior tri-captain who led the state with 96 regular-season goals. â€śWe just couldnâ€™t finish today and we had some struggles, but I definitely think finishing undefeated in the regular season is really great and a really good accomplishment.
â€śIâ€™m proud of what weâ€™ve done.â€ť