SCH’s Meghan McCool (left) butts the ball forward while being closely marked by fellow senior Kate White of Agnes Irwin. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

SCH’s Meghan McCool (left) butts the ball forward while being closely marked by fellow senior Kate White of Agnes Irwin. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Both the booters of host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and the girls of Agnes Irwin School had plenty of chances to score a second goal in the final half-hour of last Friday’s Inter-Ac match, but it was the visiting Owls who achieved that objective.

After a scoreless first half, sophomore Emily McNesby got the SCH Blue Devils on the board first, but AIS freshman Grace Bartosh soon evened things up with 32 minutes remaining in the second period. Much later, Irwin went ahead with four minutes left thanks to Bartosh’s junior sister, Lydia. The 2-1 victory lifted the Owls to an Inter-Ac record of 7-4.

The Devils thought they had the game tied at 2-2 with two-and-a-half minutes left, when senior Meghan McCool headed the ball in as the Owls’ junior keeper, Kendall Shein, appeared to bobble it. However the officials rules that Shein, who was very close to being across the goal line herself, had control of the ball and that McCool’s cranium interfered with the netminder.

Shein had made a brilliant save against McCool in the first half, and she finished the day with a total of nine stops. Another junior goalie, Destini Curry, walled off the Springside Chestnut Hill cage for much of the afternoon, recording 11 saves in the contest.

If likened to a boxing match, this was no bout between deliberate, plodding heavyweights, but something more akin to a middleweight or lightweight fight peppered with rapid attacks and counters. That was a boon for observers, who saw each squad earn its first corner kick in the first two minutes.

In open field play, the Devils’ McNesby had a shot knocked wide of the cage, while at the other end Curry quashed an attempt by Owls senior Kristin Burnetta, who is actually a Harvard lacrosse recruit. A little over 10 minutes in, McCool made an offensive sortie that roused the home crowd, but Irwin’s Shein bolted out from the cage at just the right time to snatch the ball from in front of the feet of the dangerous SCH senior.

A younger Blue Devils player, Grace Rorke, can be effective on aerials, but when she got her head onto a serve some 15 minutes into the match, the sophomore nodded the ball over the goal.

As the clock fell under 15 minutes remaining in the half, a pair of AIS corner kicks left the home side of the scoreboard unblemished. Ashley Carabajal, a senior co-captain for the Chestnut Hill franchise along with McCool, launched a projectile from the outside, but it was a shot that was easily tracked by Shein, who swallowed the ball without a hiccup.

The ticker was down to six minutes when a struggle developed right at the SCH goal line, where the hosts’ Curry tried to resist the advances of Owls sophomore Maria Pansini. Blue Devils freshman Nayah Moore rode in to her teammate’s rescue to clear the ball away.

Perhaps the closest scrape for either keeper in the first period came with about two-and-a-half minutes left. A low SCH serve descended into the middle of the box and the ball was trapped by McCool with her back to the goal. She pivoted to face the cage and got a boot solidly on the ball, but Shein was absolutely prepared to react, and she stuffed the first percolating cheers of the home fans back down their throats.

Likewise, visiting Owls fans were denied the chance to hoot when a promising ball fired by sophomore Kate Chernitsky was tipped over the crossbar by Curry in the final minute. It was still 0-0 at the break.

The first of the two zeroes on the scoreboard vanished five minutes and 39 seconds into the second half, as the Blue Devils’ McNesby carried the ball from midfield down the right wing, angled in, and fired. There would be further charges down the field by the sophomore (who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Maryland), as well as similar assaults by McCool, who will sign with Virginia in a few months’ time.

None of the shots that capped off these later rushes would penetrate the Owls’ nest; they were either saved by Shein, or simply fired high or wide of the mark.

“Their goalie made some huge saves,” said second-year SCH coach John Westfield.

Shein’s defenders played a role, too, rarely stopping the two Blue Devils outright, but doggedly keeping after them to prevent them from getting off perfectly-struck shots.

“We have two snipers, Meg and Emily, and this was just a day when they didn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” said Westbrook. “Irwin was able to run them out a little wider than usual, or force them off the ball just enough to offset the shot.”

The Owls soon leveled the score at 1-1 with 32:08 still on the clock. They got a pass into the box and had the younger Bartosh slip inside her defender and corral the ball. After a few touches in the middle, she placed the ball to the left of Curry, who was caught on her own in the center of the net with the full goal to defend.

“We had a girl wander to the outside of her mark and they capitalized on that opportunity,” Westfield said. “That’s going to happen when you’re playing with a lot of underclassmen. We have a few very experienced players, and a lot of others who are going through a growth process out there.”

For a while, both teams pursued the game’s third goal in a relatively routine manner, then they began to ramp up the intensity level as time began to wind down.

Between the 15 and 10-minute mark, the Blue Devils’ Curry grabbed an Irwin corner kick out of the air, slapped aside a shot by Lydia Bartosh, and then watched another Irwin corner ball curve out over the goalcage.

With nine minutes to go McCool was down near the right endline and got off a shot that was swatted out by Shein, and SCH didn’t get a shot off on the resulting corner. McCool hit one ball wide to the left and another one over the crossbar as the clock dropped close to five minutes.

When Irwin pushed upfield after that, SCH failed to seal off its own endlines as Pansini slid the ball across from the left. Closing in from the far side, Lydia Bartosh tucked the ball away with 4:02 left to play.

In the hosts’ most serious threat to tie the game, they popped the ball toward the goalmouth from the right flank. In the middle of the cage Irwin’s Shein grabbed the ball, but appeared to briefly lose her hold on it in the air. SCH argued that it was while the ball was loose that McCool headed it into the net, but the officials didn’t see it that way, and there was no goal.

McCool, a fierce competitor, was furious, while afterwards Westfield was philosophical.

“It was a judgment call; there’s not much you can do about it and we had a lot of other chances to score,” he said. “I was proud of our effort, win or lose.”

The players themselves were soon mollified as they got caught up in the postgame Senior Day celebration for Carabajal and McCool.

The Blue Devils had lost to the Owls by three goals in the first meeting between the teams, so the rematch continued a pattern where, for the most part, SCH has performed better against the top league teams in the second round of Inter-Ac games than in the first batch.

“With a pretty young team, it’s a process of improvement,” Westfield noted. “There are going to be ups and downs, but overall you want to see things going in a positive direction.”