Girls’ soccer: No. 3 Coe-Brown rides late surge past Pembroke into D-II championship game

Pembroke goalie Laila Al-Shawafi leaps up to try to make a save amid pressure from Coe-Brown’s offense during Thursday's Division II semis.

Pembroke goalie Laila Al-Shawafi leaps up to try to make a save amid pressure from Coe-Brown’s offense during Thursday's Division II semis. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown celebrates its 2-0 win over Pembroke to advance to the Division II championship game on Sunday for the first time in program history.

Coe-Brown celebrates its 2-0 win over Pembroke to advance to the Division II championship game on Sunday for the first time in program history. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown’s Jennifer Noni battles  Pembroke’s Layla Thorne for possession of the ball during Thursday’s Division II semifinal in Exeter.

Coe-Brown’s Jennifer Noni battles Pembroke’s Layla Thorne for possession of the ball during Thursday’s Division II semifinal in Exeter. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 11-03-2023 12:56 PM

EXETER – No. 7 Pembroke (11-8-0) kept hanging around. As Spartans goalie Laila Al-Shawafi turned aside save after save, the underdogs looked like they could pull off another upset against No. 3 Coe-Brown (14-3-1).

But with 6:23 left in regulation, the Bears’ Somer Loto aimed a shot on goal perfectly, bouncing past Al-Shawafi and into the back left corner of the net.

Coe-Brown’s Jaelyn Demers added another goal less than two minutes later, and the Bears escaped Thursday’s Division II semifinal with a 2-0 win.

Here are three takeaways from the contest:

Coe-Brown sticks with it

The Bears had ample reasons to feel discouraged, constantly peppering the net with shots but having nothing to show for it. Eventually, though, Coe-Brown’s continued pressure paid off.

“We just stuck with the game plan,” head coach Josh Hils said after the win. “We knew what we had to do the whole time, and it was frustrating the first half because we were executing, we just weren’t getting that last pass to connect. We had our scoring opportunities, we just had to tell them, ‘Stay with the plan. Stay with the process.’ ”

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Thursday was the third time the Bears and Spartans faced off this season, and even though Coe-Brown won the first two meetings by a combined score of 8-2, Hils knew Pembroke would make them work for everything.

“They’re well-coached, they’re well-skilled, they’ve been here a lot,” he said. “For us, this will be the first championship in school history for girls’ soccer, and it’s only the fifth time we’ve ever gotten to the semis, so I can’t be more proud of how they played tonight.”

Hils emphasizes confidence heading into the championship

Asked what the message to his team was heading into Sunday’s championship against No. 1 Hollis-Brookline, Hils kept things simple.

“Confidence. Confidence,” he said. “The last two days, I kept telling them: Breathe in confidence, and exhale any doubt and just play soccer the way you know how to play.”

Coe-Brown didn’t face the unbeaten Cavaliers in the regular season, but they’ll present a stiff challenge, having allowed just three goals in 18 games all year.

Pembroke’s underdog run comes to an end

The Spartans aren’t used to being the underdog, having reached the championship game in each of the last two seasons. Entering this year’s playoffs as the seven seed, Pembroke had a more difficult trek ahead to make it three straight trips to the final. The team pulled off an upset over No. 2 Merrimack Valley on Sunday, but that magic didn’t quite carry over to Thursday’s semifinal.

“It’s tough. It hurts,” Pembroke head coach Jess Kaufman Desrochers said. “They’re a talented team, and so it’s hard to lose on a big stage like this, but I’m so proud of how we responded in the face of adversity from the first half of our season and kind of corrected ourselves and got on a win streak. And again being the seventh seed, we weren’t predicted to be here, so the girls have had a great playoff run, and there’s nothing like this kind of experience.”