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Pembroke girls’ soccer team’s run of upsets ends with 2-0 loss in final

  • Pembroke's girls soccer teammates console each other following their 2-0 loss to Souhegan in the NHIAA championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Pembroke's girls soccer teammates console each other following their 2-0 loss to Souhegan in the NHIAA championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Souhegan's Taylor Behn collected a yellow card after pushing Pembroke's Emilee Harlow during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Souhegan's Taylor Behn collected a yellow card after pushing Pembroke's Emilee Harlow during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

    Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013. (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

  • Pembroke's girls soccer teammates console each other following their 2-0 loss to Souhegan in the NHIAA championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
  • Souhegan's Taylor Behn collected a yellow card after pushing Pembroke's Emilee Harlow during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
  • Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)
  • Pembroke senior Keerstyn Allen pushes Souhegan senior Taylor Behn away from the ball during the NHIAA Championship game at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.  (Alan MacRae/for the Monitor)

MANCHESTER – Kristin Kezar didn’t have to wait long to be comforted by her teammates following yesterday’s loss in the Division II title game.

The Pembroke goaltender could hardly walk after a collision with a Souhegan striker late in the second half left her back battered and bruised, but the junior refused to come out of the game – even for brief time – despite a two-goal deficit and heartbreaking defeat looming.

So when the final whistle sounded in the ninth-ranked Spartans’ 2-0 loss to No. 3 Souhegan at Southern New Hampshire University, it was no surprise each member of the team turned to embrace Kezar before walking off the field.

“They have so much love and respect for her,” Pembroke Coach Jessica Croft said of her team’s goaltender. “Kristin’s been huge for us and she’s hurting right now. She got laid out pretty good. She’s been so solid for us all year, and particularly in the playoffs. Our girls know that.”

The loss put a disappointing finish to a storybook season for a Pembroke (13-7) program that had never played in a championship game. Croft’s squad pulled off three straight upsets to earn its trip to the final, even after ending the regular season with losses in two of its final three games.

“We weren’t exactly that team that beat (Nos.) 8, 1 and 5 today,” Croft acknowledged. “We weren’t completely jelled together – playing our possession-style game – but I’m so proud of these girls and what they’ve done. They’ve done the impossible. I don’t know the last time a nine seed has been in the finals. And for our school, we’ve never been in the finals.”

The Sabers (16-3-1) scored on a pair of set plays to clinch their second title in three years, and netted what proved to be the game-winning score less than four minutes in. Souhegan came up empty on its first corner kick of the game moments earlier, but Peyton Kent’s second offering was deflected in by a Pembroke defender for an own goal.

It took nearly 70 minutes and eight more shots for the Sabers to score again, as Kezar and defenders Molly Hamilton and Skylar Carter did everything they could to keep their team in contention. Unfortunately for Pembroke, however, Kent’s score with 5:30 left on a direct kick from 20 yards out all but sealed the team’s fate.

“Today we didn’t bring our best,” Croft said. “The deciding factors were two set pieces, which still means – during play and aside from fouls – we were hanging right with them.”

Unlike earlier rounds, the Spartans struggled to maintain possession against Souhegan, and were credited with just two shots on goal in the game. Both offerings came off the foot of Emilee Harlow, but were handled with ease by Souhegan keeper Mikaela Sullivan between the pipes.

Pembroke outscored opponents 8-1 over the first three rounds in upsets of Merrimack Valley, Portsmouth and Coe-Brown, giving it plenty of confidence heading into its matchup against the third-ranked Sabers. But while certainly underdogs on paper, Croft said that won’t make the loss any easier to take for her players.

“There are some tears today because I think they really wanted it all – especially considering everything they put into it,” Croft said. “They wanted it all, because why not?”

Still, Croft said her players will eventually smile – like she did – when reminded of their unlikely run through the D-II tournament. Which, she said, was triggered by some good old-fashioned hard word.

“We had some real hot streaks during the regular season, but once we got into the playoffs everything was just clicking,” Croft said. “Everybody was healthy, everybody was focused on the game – working together like never before. It really came together at the right time. It’s just been a magical season.”

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