GROTON - For the Groton-Dunstable Lady Crusaders' field hockey team, getting shots on goal has been a challenge this season. On Thursday afternoon on the upper field beside the high school, the Lady Crusaders were blanked by undefeated Central Mass powerhouse, Leominster, 2-0.
Junior Lady Crusaders' goaltender Erin Connerty stonewalled 15 shots in the loss.
"We're down there and putting actual pressure on the goalie," Connerty said. "We are still struggling with allowing too many corners on our end. We are not capitalizing on the offensive corners. We have good passing and we are working on talking. We still need to work on our offense."
While the Lady Crusaders have struggled on the offensive side of the field for much of the young season, senior captain Livy Penney had a quality chance on goal five minutes in. Penney rumbled her way into the box and uncorked a firecracker at goal. Leominster goaltender Kasey Mainmone booted the ball out of danger.
Leominster's Jess Moran blasted a point-blank shot, but Connerty instinctively dove on the ball and the refferee called for a rarely called penalty stroke. So, it was a one-on-one penalty stroke opportunity for Moran, but Connerty was not going to back down without a fight. Moran elevated a wicked shot at Connerty. Connerty shuffled to her right and stacked the pads for the save.
"You don't see many penalty shots," the coach said. "That was good. I was so excited that there was actually a penalty shot. Of course, I wish it wasn't on our end. But, she did good. It was a nice aerial ball."
Leominster got on the board first with 6:29 remaining in the first half on an unassisted goal by Shaylynn Gallagher. Gallagher and a host of Lady Blue Devils' jerseys swarmed around the Groton-Dunstable cage.
Connerty fended off the first couple of shots, but Gallaghers's snuck through the backdoor to put Leominster up, 1-0.
Towards the end of the half, senior forward Michelle Herilhy started a quality offensive run for the Lady Crusaders with teammate, Haley McEvoy. Herilhy directed a crisp pass to McEvoy.
McEvoy uncorked a strong shot, but Mainmone dove and stymied the scoring chance. Connerty turned away another scoring attempt Moran in the final two minutes of the half, to mitigate the damage to 1-0.
Groton-Dunstable's defense continued to stay the course in the second half, but a minor defensive letdown, allowed Leominster to pad its lead. Nicholina Allain blasted a shot on goal, but Connerty steered it wide right. But not wide enough.
Lady Blue Devils' forward, Dayna Kowesky, kept her stick on the grass, secured the juicy rebound and rang the goal-box to put Leominster up, 2-0.
Groton-Dunstable had a positive chance with 9:30 left in regulation when defensive midfielder Meghan Coluntuoni belted a hard shot towards net, but Mainmone made the kick save. The Lady Crusaders continued to crash the net hard. Kale Connerty took a hack at a rebound inside the goal circle, but Mainmone turned it aside.
At the time of publication, Leominster improves to 5-0-1. The Blue Devils have successfully blanked their last five opponents.
"I truly feel that we can beat them," the coach said about Leominster. "It is just getting the ball in the net. And, it looks so easy from here. But it's difficult when you're out there. So, now we are starting to play other good teams. We are a third of the way there, and we only have four points. We need to step it up."
The Lady Crusaders have the weekend off before it tangles with another undefeated foe, Algonquin, Monday at 4 p.m. in Groton.