GROTON -- Going into Thursday's match with North Middlesex, the Groton-Dunstable girls lacrosse team knew that it was guaranteed a berth in the CMass District Tournament.
The Lady Crusaders came out of the starting gates flat but were able to regain its composure en route to a 17-7 win over North Middlesex.
Nicki Wilkinson poured in a game-high five goals and two assists for the Lady Crusaders. Groton-Dunstable saw four players post multi-goal games, and head coach Gary Kraemer said that slow starts have been his team's mode of operation.
"When you look at today, we had four multiple goal-scorers," said Kraemer. "We were a little sloppy in the beginning, but I told the girls to open up the field and create the wide passing lanes."
Madison Ozog caught the Lady Crusaders' defense off guard when she hammered home the game's first goal less than three minutes in.
Ozog cashed in again, this time from the right hash at 5:06 to extend North Middlesex's advantage to 2-0.
Wilkinson would later link-up with senior captain Lauren Kraemer to cut North Middlesex's lead to 2-1 at 7:21 of the first. Kraemer accepted Wilkinson's pass about 10 yards from the goal and deposited the ball in the low-left pocket.
Ozog secured the hat-trick at 8:11 of the first half to extend the Lady Patriots' lead to 3-1. Kraemer burned a time out following the Lady Patriots third goal and instructed his defense to buckle down.
"We had been working on holding the double team," said Kraemer. "For the last week in practice, we have been working on our defense rolling into the double, and I think that was a big part of the game today."
Sara Walsh screamed home a free position goal from the center hash to bring the Lady Crusaders back within one at 12:26 of the first half.
Groton-Dunstable tied the game 22 seconds later, when Wilkinson airmailed a deep pass to a galloping Lauren Kraemer to make it 3-3. Kraemer's (four goals, two assists) goal started a string of seven unanswered tallies by the Lady Crusaders.
Olivia Aumais, Wilkinson and Liv Rubeski (three goals) all etched goals in the sequence. Molly TenBroeck halted the Groton-Dunstable run with 1:53 remaining when she skipped home a free position goal to narrow the Lady Crusaders' lead to 8-4.
Wilkinson whirled home a pair of goals 10 seconds apart in the final minute of the half to put the Lady Crusaders up 10-4 at the break.
Groton-Dunstable came out of half-time with a pair of quick goals in a span of under two minutes. Ozog responded for the Lady Patriots with a goal at 3:43 to trim Groton-Dunstable's lead to 13-5. The Lady Crusaders transitioned into a possession-based attack and chiseled minutes off the clock.
Consecutive strikes from Wilkinson and Rubeski sent the game into running time with 18:58 remaining and put the Lady Crusaders up 15-5. But North Middlesex refused to quit despite the large deficit.
The Lady Patriots watched quality opportunities by Chapel Guarnieri and Ozog miss their mark.
North Middlesex sunk a pair of consolation goals late in the half from Guarnieri and Casey McNamara, but it was not enough.
Lady Patriots' head coach Margaret Nickells said she was satisfied with her team's performance.
"I think we had our ups and downs throughout the game," said Nickells. "They never gave up and played hard all the way through. I am pleased with their performance.
Groton-Dunstable had a couple of really good opportunities that really took the wind out of our sails."