Tanner laxmen hold on to take down Westford Academy in playoff opener | Sports

PEABODY — The Grey Ghosts of Westford Academy trailed all game Friday, but were never out of it. The visitors kept fighting back until the very end.

Host Peabody couldn’t safely put this first round Division 1 North playoff contest into the win column until senior captain Keenan Madden took a pass from Sam Izzo and fired his fourth goal of the day past goalie Craig Tucker. That opened up a two-goal lead with just over three minutes remaining, and the Tanners hung on for an 11-9 victory at Coley Lee Field.

The sixth-seeded Tanners (12-3) will now travel to No. 3 seed St. John’s Prep (13-1) Sunday at noon to take on the Catholic Conference champions in a sectional quarterfinal. The two teams also met in the 2019 playoffs, with the Prep winning handily.

It was a costly win for Peabody, with senior midfielder Matt Pursell suffering a broken arm after being slashed in the first half.

“Matt’s the second defensive midfielder we lost because of a slash, and no penalty was called either time,” said Peabody head coach Leo Shidler. “We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments this season because of the injuries, but other guys have stepped up. That’s a testament to our leadership, and that showed by answering back whenever (Westford Academy) came close. It’s a shame Matt’s high school career has to end that way.”

Peabody never trailed, but the Grey Ghosts (5-9) didn’t go quietly. The visitors scored goals in the final minute of both the first and second quarters to close the gap.

The Tanners built up a 4-1 lead on goals by Madden (a game-high 4 goals and 2 assists) and fellow senior Tristan Ell. At halftime they clung to a 6-4 lead.

The Grey Ghosts spent a great deal of time killing penalties, and the home team capitalized with three man-up scores in the third quarter. Senior attack scored the first of those for Peabody, assisted by Luke Buckley (2 helpers). Captain Drew Lucas was set up by Madden for another tally, and Cam Collins then scored to give his team a 9-6 advantage heading into the last 12 -inute quarter.

“They took a lot of penalties, but I think their game plan was to be very physical, bang us around, and maybe we’d back down,” said Shidler. “That’s not this team; all season long we’ve answered back.”

Westford Academy ripped three goals in the last quarter and once again pulled within a goal, 9-8, before Bettencourt answered 18 seconds later. Cole Barisano (3 goals, assist) was able to cut into the slot and beat Tanner goalie Derek Patturelli to make it a one-goal game once more just 28 seconds later, setting up the wild finish before Madden put an end to any thoughts of a big upset.

“They came ready to play and were firing right from the start,” said Madden, who now has 46 points to lead the team. “We don’t let our heads get down, though. Bettencourt, Collins, Lucas, Buckley and so many others have stepped us. We move the ball around, and the chemistry is great.

“It was tough when Jack (Houlden, the team captain and top offensive threat) went down (with an injury in Peabody’s 7th game); he was such a big part of our offense. But we’ve all been contributing, playing for the guy next to you.”

Lucas (2 goals, assist), Bettencourt (2), and Collins (2) all found the back of the net while Anthony Curcio had an assist for the winners. Patturelli made eight saves, some on point blank shots that were labeled.

“Derek was fantastic as usual,’ said Shidler. “He’s Division 1 talent for sure.

“We know we’ve got a big task against the Prep, but it’s going to be fun. You always want to play the best around. We’ll watch film and throw it all against the wall.”