TOWNSEND -- The Patriots pummeled visiting St. Bernard's 16-5, behind a solid performance by senior captain Kimmie Zuccaro, who finished with team-high four goals. North Middlesex's defense put the clamps on the Saints in the second half, allowing just one goal.
"Every game is a playoff game from here on out," North Middlesex head coach Margaret Nickless said. "I think that we had a rough start -- we are still trying to click together on offense. They really pulled it together in the second half. St. B's has a lot of girls who can really cradle well and carry the ball down low, that was giving us a little trouble early on, but I think our defense was able to pull it together."
North Middlesex scored 37 seconds into the opening half on a goal by Zuccaro from attackman Molly TenBroeck. TenBroeck fed the slicing Zuccaro, who released a well-timed push-shot into the bottom left corner of the net to make it 1-0. Following the 3-0 run by the Patriots, St. Bernard's answered back with a mini streak of its own. Four-minutes into the game, Saints attackman Alana Bizzotto broke free in the open field and parted the North Middlesex defense before beating freshman Patriot goalie Katie Babineau top-right to cut the deficit to 3-1. St. Bernard's scored again a minute later, when Sydney Esielionis scooped up a ground ball in the attacking zone on a failed clearance attempt by the North Middlesex defense and put it past Babineau to bring the Saints within one.
The North Middlesex defense adjusted and forced the Saints into making some risky passes in traffic. North Middlesex junior midfielder Maddie Ozog collected a pass from senior Mackenzie Gray and launched a skip-shot from 20-yards out to extend the Patriot lead to 4-2 with 17:40 remaining in the half. North Middlesex ended the opening half on a blistering 7-2 run behind goals from Gray, Shaelee Callahan and Zuccaro.
The North Middlesex offense exploded for nine goals in the final quarter, while defensively limiting St. Bernard's to one. Nickless decided to shake things up by moving Emily Valacer from defense to midfield, and the gutsy maneuver worked to perfection. Valacer picked up two assists and two goals late in the second half.
"I moved her and she performed very well for us," she said. "She's just another naturally gifted athlete. She made a beautiful pass and assist in the end. She is a smart athlete and lacrosse player.
Nine Patriots scored goals in Sunday's win.
"I have some really good natural athletes on this team. My goalie, Katie Babineau, is a freshman who never played lacrosse until this year. She did a remarkable job in net for us today. Last year, I lost my goalie and low defenders. I think our defense is doing a great job working together."
North Middlesex was eliminated from playoff contention Monday in a 14-8 senior night loss to Algonquin. Gray had three goals and Zuccaro added two goals.