When Belmont senior Corrine Ognibene hit the ball with her right foot 30 yards from the Wilmington goal, she was just doing what came naturally.
"It was all instinct," said the midfielder after the North Division 2 Sectional finals held Monday, Nov. 12, at Lynn's Manning Field.
"I kicked it towards the goal because I could feel a defender near me. I was hoping it would just get close (to the goal)," Ognibene said.
Floating high in the air, the ball was caught in the steady ocean breeze you get around Lynn and began drifting ever closer to the Wilmington goal. Wildcat goalkeeper senior Kim Woods who was playing off her line, slowly drifted back towards her net.
But it became apparent that Woods misjudged just how much the ball was moving at her goal. A last-second desperate lunge could not prevent the ball from squeezing in between the crossbar and Woods' glove.
"I could see (Woods) looking like she was in trouble," said Ognibene, who raised her arms in celebration just as the ball crossed the goal line to give the 8th-ranked Marauders a precious 1-0 lead against Middlesex League rival and 6th-rank Wilmington after only 17 minutes.
Just as surprising as Ognibene's goal was that it was the only one score in the game as the Marauders' hung on for dear life and rode their stellar defensive backline and all-star goalkeeper and senior co-captain Maria-Alice Menatas to their second North Sectional championship in three seasons.
"It was definitely a different atmosphere this year but we wanted this just as much as two years ago. We were capable of it and clearly we just showed that," said senior co-captain and midfield general Julia Russo before heading for the bus home to Belmont.
"It gave us more strength and a determination to want it," Russo said of not being a favorite as Belmont was two year's ago.
"A lot of people told us that we would not make the state tournament this year and then when we did they said we would not get far. Well, we won the D2 and it was a great team effort," said Menatas.
"It's just as great winning it the second time," she said.
The game, held on an Indian summer day with temperatures in the high 60s, was a true grudge match, with every possession contested by both sides. Grabbing, pushing and collisions were constant through the game between Middlesex League heavyweights.
"Our league is pretty tough where every game is a war and that's helped us. We have an advantage over other leagues, it's just so tough," said long-time Belmont head coach Paul Graham.
While Ognibene's shot was the offensive play of the game for the Marauders, Menatas' one-arm diving save with 13 minutes remaining in the game resulted in controversy and what appeared to be a goal or a call by the officials of a penalty shot.
Wilmington's leading scorer Alix Bischoff found herself in one of the rare times when Belmont had not tightly marked the forward when she hit a long throw-in.
Bischoff's shot was heading towards the open low right post when Menatas threw herself at the ball which resulted in the reaction save but also sending the three-year starter violently into the post, leaving her on her back with the ball to the side of the net.
Immediately then the ball popped in front of the net and was pushed in. While the referee did not signal a goal, the line judge pointed to the penalty spot for an infraction inside the 18-meter box.
But after the officials conferred, the goal and possible penalty were disallowed as the ball was determined to have gone out of bounds before the pass and penalty.
"It was very quick and I think I got my hand on it but I also hit my back. I didn't see anything else because I was on my back. I'm just glad that I was there and then everyone else after the play," said Menatas, who has registered three shutouts in the playoffs while only giving up one goal to undefeated Amesbury.
The incident came during a second half in which Wilmington dominated the play, winning each 50/50 ball and demonstrating a superior positional game. The
Graham called out her back three of co-captains Olivia Lyons, Charlotte Cellucci and sophomore Lucia Guzikowski as the backbone of Monday's win.
"What can you say about them? Everything comes the back and they didn't let anything get by them," said Graham who said he is not surprised by his team's impressive tournament run which includes defeating the number 1, 4 and 6 seeds to win the title.
He also noted two strong performances by non-starters junior Siobhan Houllahan and sophomore Liz Ferrante.
"Ferrante is usually someone I substitute in but with our regular back (Sara Ramsey) sick, I stuck her in there and she played a great game taking away Wimington's best player out of the game in the first half. And I put in (Houllahan) in at the end and she did the job we asked of her," said Graham.
'They bought into their roles and it's working," said Graham.
"This win was a team win, a team effort," he said.