Drury Defense Continues Dominance

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – The Drury girls soccer team Wednesday continued an eight-game shutout streak and improved to 9-0 this fall with a 1-0 win over Hoosac Valley.
In the process, the Blue Devils clinched a second straight berth in the Division 5 state tournament.
Madison Saunders scored the lone goal, and Brooke Bishop needed to make just three saves for her eighth clean sheet of the fall.
The Blue Devils, who posted 12 shutouts in going undefeated before the state tourney last year, have picked up right where they left off in 2022, outscoring opponents by a margin of 30-1.
“We’re just really working on our team strategy a lot,” Drury coach Maria Bartini said. “That’s really been our big focus this year – really keeping us playing as a unit and really making sure we follow a team strategy and that we’re disciplined.
“We’re experimenting with a few different formations, a few different approaches, which I’m not going to share. But the idea is we’re really focusing a lot on our tactical side of the game this year. Part of our development over the last few years has been building to this.”
It was the Hurricanes who had the first dangerous chance of the game in the 24th minute with a run up the left wing into the final third. But Drury back Rylee Joy was able to get over and close down the play without a shot.
About five minutes later, the Blue Devils were able to cash in the only chance they needed.
Jordyn Lloyd found Hannah Lacasse about 20 yards from the goal up top, and Lacasse sent Saunders into the 18. Her left-footed shot beat a diving Emma Meczywor (two saves), and gave the Devils’ defense all the cushion it needed.
Drury road the momentum from Saunders’ goal and went on to dominate the closing stages of the half, but a Jacinta Felix free kick from 30 yards out hit the crossbar, and Meczywor made a diving save on another free kick in the 34th minute to keep it a one-goal margin at the break.
Neither offense could get much traction for most of the second half.
Drury’s best opportunity to double its lead came in the 59th minute, when Saunders had a one-on-one break against a Hurricane defender, but Meczywor came off her line to stop the play and earn a goal kick.
And in the closing minutes of the game, it was Hoosac Valley that had the better of play, generating several set piece opportunities to put home the equalizer.
A series of three corner kicks in the 74th minute ended with Gabby Billetz getting a solid head on the final entry, but her header went just wide. Three minutes later, Tia Kareh had a free kick from about 30 yards out on the left wing that she placed perfectly for Billetz at the edge of the 6, but Billetz’ header was a little too high.
“That’s how we tied the game against Ware,” Hoosac Valley coach Mike Ziaja said. “A corner, Gabby got on the end with the head. So getting three head opportunities on that, I’ll take that.”
And although the Hurricanes (4-6-1) went the way of Drury’s last seven opponents and failed to score a goal, Ziaja’s club also managed to keep the Blue Devils from getting their offense into gear most of the afternoon.
“Their intention was, ‘We’re going to keep beating you long and running you down,’ “ Ziaja said. “We were, I think, trying to play a little more possession. They had some nice midfield play, but even after a few passes, they’re looking for that long ball, which our backs handled.”
Drury, meanwhile, handled its 17th straight regular season opponent. Aside from the state tourney loss at Hull last November, the Blue Devils are now unbeaten in their last 29 games (a Western Mass semi-final “loss” at Mount Greylock last fall came in overtime and went in the books as a tie for state tournament seeding purposes).
That 29-game stretch dates back to April 28 in the Berkshire County South Division semi-finals – a tournament to decide the title of a league that does not exist anymore in a season, “Fall 2” when the state was coming out of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bartini said that the Drury program had been building to that Berkshire South title since she started in North Adams in 2019, but she agreed that the April championship – against Hoosac Valley in the league final – was a key step.
“It helped create a positive mentality among the girls and some belief in themselves that they could be successful,” Bartini said. “It took a few years to get them to really believe it and buy into it. I think that Fall 2 season that we had was when they really got to see the results, a really clear result from those efforts. I think that was kind of a turning point, in a way.
“It didn’t start then, but that was an important time for us to get that result that season and then be able to turn that into the fall, the regular fall season.”
This regular fall season will continue for the Blue Devils on Thursday, when they host Pioneer Valley.
Video: Drury keeper Brooke Bishop talks about the team’s stellar play on defense this fall.
Video: Drury’s Madison Saunders scores the only goal of the game on Wednesday against Hoosac Valley.
Video: Hoosac Valley’s Gabby Billetz just misses a game-tying header late at Drury on Wednesday.
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