LANCASTER -- The U19 label on the Pepperell girls club soccer team is a bit deceptive.
The girls from Pepperell feature just one 18-year-old player, their goalie Carmel James. James left it all on the pitch Saturday afternoon at Citizen's Bank Field at Progin Park in Lancaster, as Pepperell battled for a spot in Sunday's Mass. Tournament of Champions Final Four. James and the Pepperell defense turned in a 1-0 shutout performance over Coastal League winner Middleboro.
"We had good teamwork out there," Pepperell head coach Tom Daly said. "We spread the ball like we wanted to and got good transition from side to side. All I can say is that these guys came out here and played like a team, like they did all weekend. That's why we are where we at."
It was a defensive game from the opening whistle, and both teams were struggling to break through. Pepperell featured a strong performance from their wing, Shaylee Callahan. Callahan did a tremendous job working the ball down the sidelines and creating opportunities for Hailey Nolan and the rest of the Pepperell attack. Callahan had a few opportunities to hammer one home midway through the first half, but the Pepperell contingent would have to wait patiently for the magical moment to come.
Pepperell kept asking questions, but they were continuously steered away by the tough, gritty Middleboro defense. If you keep knocking on the door, someone is going to get annoyed and let you in. That is exactly what happened when the Pepperell attack breached the Middleboro defense in the final minute of the opening half. Callahan aggressively pushed the ball down the right wing and spotted up for a cross.
Callahan's cross coasted through the air into the 18-yard box, where it met the right foot of Nolan. Nolan punished the ball with wicked pace and smooched the underside of the crossbar to make it 1-0.
"It was a nice follow-up on the play there by our forward Hailey Nolan," said Daly. "We used that cross to open the field up. Our game plan was to possess the ball and distribute it across the field. We came out here and played each game as it comes, we didn't know anything about any of the teams before we got here. We just came out and played our game."
James anchored the Pepperell defense, making save after save down the stretch. James stonewalled eight shots, three of which came in the final five minutes of the match.
"We had a great performance from our goalkeeper, Carmel James," the coach said. "I don't know how many she had, but she came up big for us all weekend. She was a major factor out there. Carmel is our one senior. She only let in three goals all weekend."
Pepperell came up short with a result of 3-1 in its semifinals match early Sunday morning with Amesbury. The Pepperell U18 finish their tournament weekend with a less than shabby record of 1-1-2, and an overall record of 7-2.
Pepperell outshot Middleboro 12-8 in the match.