NASHUA — While it likely impressed everyone else at Stellos Stadium on a rainy Thursday, Olivia Stowell’s game-winning goal in the Londonderry High School girls’ soccer team’s 1-0 Division I semifinal win over Bishop Guertin was nothing her teammates and coaches had not seen before.
Second-seeded Londonderry (17-1), which finished as the runner-up last year, will face top-seeded and unbeaten Exeter (18-0) for the D-I championship at Manchester Memorial High School’s Chabot-McDonough Field on Sunday at 5 p.m. Exeter defeated fifth-seeded Concord, 1-0, in Thursday’s other semifinal.
The third-seeded Cardinals finished with a 16-3 record.
Stowell, a senior forward who will play at Wake Forest next year, dribbled 20 yards upfield, around a Cardinals defender and into the penalty box before finishing with a low shot into the far corner of the Bishop Guertin net in the 43rd minute. Cardinals sophomore goalkeeper Erin Morris (three saves) did not come off her line to challenge Stowell.
“It’s funny to watch because she does it all the time,” Londonderry coach Derek Dane said. “If you’ve seen us play, you’ve seen that....We don’t hide anything. You know what we’re going to do. The question is can you stop us from doing what we want to do?”
When she got around the defender, Stowell said she figured it was worth firing a shot considering the wet turf.
“I just dribbled through and I was just going to shoot it because the field was wet so might as well take a shot,” Stowell said. “A shot can go anywhere and I believed. The team believed and we pulled through.”
Stowell gave the Cardinals fits on the near sideline throughout the second half. Based on what he saw in the teams’ regular-season meeting and his familiarity with some of Londonderry’s players from club soccer, Bishop Guertin coach Patrick Mulcahy expected the Lancers to utilize their speed, play wide and try to stretch his defense.
“We were fully aware of their strengths,” Mulcahy said. “We talked about it during the week. We tried to prepare for it but it’s hard when you just don’t have that kind of speed. We just kind of froze, we gave away a little too much space but we battled back. We had chances.”
Londonderry senior Jasmine Richards withstood Bishop Guertin’s late pressure and earned a three-save shutout.
Stowell’s tally came after the Lancers got into an offensive rhythm late in the first half. The Lancers withstood Bishop Guertin’s pressure early in the contest and created their best scoring chances over the first half’s final 16 minutes. Londonderry recorded each of its first three shots on goal over that stretch.
Londonderry has the opportunity to avenge both its lone loss (3-1 to Exeter) this season and its 5-0 defeat to Manchester Central in last year’s championship game on Sunday.
Exeter 1, Concord 0: The Blue Hawks earned their 15th overall shutout win and second of the playoffs to reach their first state championship game since capturing the 2014 D-I crown.
Exeter senior keeper Meg Olszewski made two saves, both of which came in the second half, to blank the Crimson Tide (14-5).
Concord created several promising offensive build-ups but the Blue Hawks weathered those moments, often by forcing a turnover or the Crimson Tide to take a low-percentage shot. Concord senior Ashley Plante was involved in most of her team’s offensive chances.
Exeter junior Ella Fraser scored the game’s lone goal in the 52nd minute. The forward outran three Concord defenders to chase down a through pass and beat Concord senior goalie Autumn Nudd one-on-one in the penalty box with a low shot.
“Speed is certainly her strength,” Young said of Fraser. “She’s been doing a great job this year of finishing those and taking better touches and placing it and it was a great finish by her.”
Fraser challenged Nudd (six saves) two minutes earlier with two shots inside the box. Nudd came off her line and denied Fraser’s first try but could not cover the ball, leading to Fraser’s rebound shot that went wide.
Exeter drew three corner kicks, all of which were in the second half, while Concord earned one in each half.
Considering how their regular-season meeting with the Lancers went, Young said Exeter will be in for a tough bout on Sunday.
“We know what they have and I think we’re hoping for a great game with them,” Young said.