CRANSTON --- Defense is the main reason why Lincoln High captured the Division II-North title this year.
And if the Lions plan to seize the Division II state championship on Sunday afternoon, they are going to need the same excellent defense they displayed throughout the season and in Thursday night’s semifinal-round game against Mount St. Charles Academy.
Junior striker Jillian DeSimone scored her team-high 16th of the season and the Lions’ defense held off a furious second-half attack by the high-scoring Mounties en route to a 1-0 victory at Cranston Stadium.
The shutout was the sixth in a row and 12th of the season for the Lions, who allowed just eight goals all season long and turned their defensive play up a couple of notches to put away the second-highest scoring team in the entire division.
“We’re very excited,” said Lincoln coach John D‘Aloisio. “The defense has played tremendous all year. We dealt with some great pressure from a great team. (Mount) is a great team that has plenty of shooters, but somehow, we managed to come away with the one-goal win.”
Awaiting the second-seeded Lions in Sunday’s 3 p.m. title game is top-seed Exeter/West Greenwich High, which won the other semifinal-round contest with a 3-2 victory over Ponaganset High.
The Scarlet Knights (15-2-3), whose division-best 70 regular-season goals were 11 more than the Mounties, posted a 2-1 victory over the Lions in their lone regular-season meeting on Sept. 17 -- the only time this season a team managed to score multiple goals against Lincoln.
“Exeter/West Greenwich is another great team,” said D’Alosio, whose team will try for its first state title since the Lions captured back-to-back Division III crowns in 2006 and ’07. “It’s going to be a very tough final, but we’ll be ready to play.”
The Lions, who like most of the teams in the postseason, only had one day of rest because Monday’s inclement weather bumped the quarterfinal round to Tuesday night.
“I’m just glad we now have two days’ rest,” said D’Aloisio. “We just played tonight on one day’s rest and you can kind of see that toward the end (of the game). But I’m very proud of them. They played right until the end.”
While the Lions storm into the finals with a 14-1-5 record, the sixth-seeded Mounties finish another superb season with a 12-6-2 record, but their eighth loss in their last 11 postseason games.
The Mounties, who were trying to reach the finals for the first time since ’98 when they dropped a 3-1 verdict to Cranston West, were also trying to bump off a higher seed for the second time this week. On Monday, they managed to come home from Warwick with a 2-1 win over third-seeded Pilgrim.
“This was a great game,” admitted MSC coach Marek Wolny. “It could have went either way, but (Lincoln) definitely deserved to win. They played just a little bit better than we did. But I have no complaints. We had a great season and I‘m very proud of my team.”
This duel was almost a carbon copy of the regular-season nailbiters between the two teams. They battled to a 1-1 draw in their season opener on Sept. 7 at Chet Nichols Field, but the Lions pull out a 2-1 win over the Mounties in their Oct. 20 rematch in Woonsocket.
But on Thursday, the story of this contest was the play of the Lions’ defense, which received some key saves from junior keeper Aiden Cullen and superb play by senior captains Liz D’Amelio, Nora Kinslow, and Barbara Jackson and sophomores Melissa Sorkin and Marissa D’Amelio.
“I’m thrilled for the girls and just happy with the way we played,” D’Aloisio added. “They worked hard all season, and again, they gave such a defensive effort that this is a nice reward for all that work that kind of goes unnoticed for most of the season.”
Cullen, who finished the night with 15 saves, made her biggest of the night on a penalty kick just 3:40 into the game when a Lincoln player got whistled for a hard tackle inside the penalty area.
Mount co-captain Brianne Mastaj (her team’s scoring leader with 17 goals) took the kick, but got off a low shot right to Cullen that she reached down to easily scoop up.
Lincoln also appeared to have a goal with 14½ minutes left in the half when Olivia Maxell tapped in a rebound of a loose ball during a scramble for it in front of MSC’s net. But the score was waived off because of a handball by a Lincoln player.
After the Lions had another close call at a goal with seven minutes to go in the half on a 15-yard blast in front of the net by Sarah Oates that just found its way over the crossbar, DeSimone came to the rescue with 5:02 to play.
The Lions, who had three corner kicks in the final nine minutes of the half, made good on the third kick. Liz D’Amelio hooked one in front of the MSC net that DeSimone gathered and squeezed between MSC goalie Marie Ryan (10 saves) and the right post.
Down, but not out, the Mounties made their presence felt in the second half by dominating most of the 40 minutes. Mastaj and co-captain Jaclyn Bates were among the Mounties who did their best to notch the equalizer, but the Lions’ ‘D’ and Cullen withstood the pressure and held on for the win.
“Lincoln did a fantastic job,” offered Wolny. “We hammered away for quite some time in the second half, but we couldn’t finish, so you have to hand it to them.”
Mount St. Charles 0 - 0 -- 0
Lincoln 1 - 0 -- 1
First half: L -- Jillian DeSimone (Liz D’Amelio), 34:58.
Second half: No scoring.
Shots on goal: Mount St. Charles 15, Lincoln 11. Goalie saves: MSC -- Marie Ryan (10 saves); L -- Aiden Cullen (15 saves).