HOLYOKE, Mass. -- After a night filled with frustration in the final third, Aubrey Blanchard made the most of the most important chance of the night.
In the sixth minute of the first overtime, the Monument Mountain junior forward received a through ball up the middle, dribbled into the 18-yard area and ripped a shot into the corner of the goal that gave her team a 2-1 win over Monson and a trip to Saturday’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 Championship game.
“The intensity on the field was so nice, and I love being out there with my teammates,” Blanchard said. “To put one away for them means a lot. I’m happy I could be there to help put the team through to finals.”
Blanchard was set up by a header from sophomore Molly Flynn, who scored early in the first half to give the third-seeded Spartans (13-3-5) a 1-0 lead.
At that point, it looked like Flynn’s goal on a cross from Zufan Bazzano might be the first of many.
But despite multiple forays deep into Monson’s end of the field, Monument failed to get back on the scoreboard through the remaining 68 minutes of regulation time.
Blanchard said her team did not allow itself to get frustrated.
“We just wanted to put one away,” she said. “We just kept plugging away, plugging away until one went in. That’s our strategy. We just kept pressing hard and playing Monument soccer.”
And she carried that attitude right to the final moments of the game.
“I just wanted to put that one in the back of the net for my teammates, who have been there through everything for me,” Blanchard said. “It just meant the world for me to put that in there for them and show that I really care to be there for them and want to play one more game on this field with them.”
The Spartans will take the field at Westfield State University on Saturday to face top-seed South Hadley (18-1-1), which advanced to the final with a 3-0 win over Southwick on Thursday night.
Second-seeded Monson (13-3-4) a long-time power in Division 4 making the jump to D3 this fall, generated five corner kicks and two shots on Monument keeper Helen Pajeski in the first half on Thursday night.
But Flynn’s goal held up through half-time, and the Spartans came out like a house afire after intermission, dominating the first 10 minutes.
It was the Mustangs who did the scoring.
In the 52nd minute, Hannah Hicks sent a cross from the right wing into the 18, and Lily Fabian drilled a shot off the nearside post and into the net to tie the game, 1-1.
Monson had the best chance to break that tie, and it came with about 18 minutes left in regulation when Shannon Jalbert broke away and went one-on-one with Pajeski (four saves), but the sophomore keeper came off her line and stopped the shot right off Jalbert’s foot to keep things level.
“It was huge,” Monument Mountain coach Jessica Platt said of that save. “I’m a keeper myself, and there’s nothing like a big save to get things pumped up for the team. I think she added to our momentum going forward into the end of the second half. … I think we were amped up from that, for sure.”
Platt echoed Blanchard’s sentiments about the Spartans’ ability to keep plugging away as the empty chances piled up.
“We just weren’t moving the ball with enough pace and weren’t finding the looks that we usually do,” Platt said. “When the game got tied up, we’ve come back from deficits and from ties to win all season long. It’s something that doesn’t get us mentally out of the game. So we just kept pushing.”
Monument took the same “plugging away” attitude against a longtime regular season nemesis who, back in September, handed the Spartans a 1-0 setback in Monson.
“We’ve played them once a year for the past seven seasons,” Platt said. “We’ve never played them in the tournament before because they’ve been in D4 for the last seven years that I’ve coached. I think we just had a little something extra on the line, and a little heart goes a long way.
“We were 0-7 [against Monson]. … We said, ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight,’ at the beginning of the game, and we did it. It feels good.”