LEOMINSTER - Coming into Thursday night's Fast Break Field Hockey League showdown with Fitchburg, North Middlesex knew its chances of making the postseason were nonexistent. But, that didn't stop the Patriots from pouring in three goals to defeat FBFHL bottom-feeder, Fitchburg, 3-1, at Doyle Field in Leominster.
During the off-season, the North Middlesex field hockey team has competed in two separate leagues in an attempt to mold a more cohesive team.
"The team chemistry has really, really improved this year," said North Middlesex field hockey captain Bailey Devaney.
"We all have played winter league, summer league together. We are really a good team unit. Things are really looking up for next year."
Marie Shepherd, Allison Kleeman, and Emily Riposa all tallied goals for the Patriots. Fitchburg was playing without its goaltender, opting for a three-girl back-line with an extra attacker.
North Middlesex drew first blood midway through the first half, when Shepherd stormed her way into the offensive zone and blasted a shot into the teeth of the Fitchburg defense, to make it 1-0 North Middlesex.
Three minutes later, Allison Kleeman rocketed a shot from the right of net.
Kleeman's initial shot was deflected, but she scooped up the loose change, and maneuvered the ball through the Fitchburg defense to put North Middlesex up 2-0.
North Middlesex carried a two-goal lead into halftime.
The Patriots came out of the intermission looking to add a little cushion to their advantage - and, that is exactly what they did.
"Usually we have a tough time scoring, but in all of our games,we have been getting higher numbers," said Delaney.
Team-passing was our big thing. Marie Shepherd and Emily Riposa really stood out to me. Marie can run like lightning down the field. And, Marie is good at hitting the ball all the way down and finding the open player."
Riposa provided the decisive strike with 10:15 remaining in the second half. Riposa dribbled the ball with the nub of her stick, side-stepped the Fitchburg defender and whaled a shot into the low-left corner of the cage to extend North Middlesex's lead to 3-0.
Fitchburg got its consolation prize early in the second half, when Julia Fluet rippled the twine with a point-blank laser from the right side of the cage.
Fluet displayed fundamentally sound stick-work, as she swept the ball in from the right side to cut the Patriots' lead to 3-1.
Fitchburg had a pair of opportunities towards the end of regulation, but the North Middlesex defense held its ground to preserve the win.
"Towards the end in the last couple minutes," said Delaney on when her team knew they had the win in their grasps. "Our passing was really good, and our defense was really working together well."
After Thursday's victory over Fitchburg, North Middlesex improves to 3-6-0 in the FBFHL, while Fitchburg drops to 1-7-1. The Patriots conclude their summer season on Tuesday, when they face the first-place team, Leominster, at 4:30 p.m. The North Middlesex varsity field hockey team opens its regular season, a month from Tuesday, when it hosts Tyngsboro on Friday, Sept. 6.