TOWNSEND -Three weeks ago, the Crusaders sat two-games below .500 and their postseason prospectus looked grim. Groton-Dunstable went 6-2 in its last eight games, and clinched a berth in the district playoffs with two games left in the regular season.
On Friday afternoon, the Crusaders defeated North Middlesex 12-3. Groton-Dunstable head coach Rick Arena said he was proud of the determination his team showed during the final stretch of the season.
“One of our goals was to get into districts, and today we were able to do that,” said Arena. “It feels good. We really had an up-hill climb, but we did it and it was a real emotional week with a couple one goal games. I knew it would be tough coming in here physically and emotionally, but we played well. Thankfully we were able to keep it together and beat them.”
Groton-Dunstable struck first two minutes into the match, when senior captain Matt Manning rippled the twine off a crisp pass from Quintin Forbes to put the Crusaders up 1-0. Groton-Dunstable’s attack continued to create confusion defensively for the Patriots.
Austin Hourani connected with Forbes 5:51 into the first quarter. Manning,Hourani and Nick Irby hammered home a trio of goals before the half ended, and the Crusaders took a 5-0 lead into the third.
Groton-Dunstable junior Mack Eberhardt secured a precision pass from Forbes at the top of semi-circle and swept it home to put the Crusaders up 6-0 1:08 into the second half.
Nine seconds later, Eberhardt picked up a point with his assist on the next Crusaders’ strike from Ryan Dodge. Eberheart charged in after the ball was jarred loose in the face-off circle and he dished it out to Dodge for the fast-break goal.
North Middlesex senior, Brandon Lambert halted the Crusaders seven-goal unanswered stretch with an emphatic strike of his own with 7:56 remaining.
Lambert powered his way into the semi-circle and catapulted the ball under the arm of Crusaders’ goalie P.J. Kendall to make it 7-1.
Senior midfielder Willy Stewart skipped home a goal inside the far-post to put the Crusaders up 8-1 with 7:21 left to play in the third quarter.
Two-minutes later, Zach Cotoni whirled an unassisted dart past North Middlesex goalie Brendan McCarthy. Hourani, Paul Leonardo and Tristan Lynch all recorded tallies for the Crusaders midway through the fourth quarter.
Jeremy Gerring had a pair of assists in the sequence for Groton-Dusntable. North Middlesex poured in a pair of goals in the final two minutes from Dom DiTommaso and Travis Collier.
Arena said that Friday’s large margin of victory helped to get some of the role players involved.
“A lot of people contributed today,” said Arena. “Particularly the people who come off the bench, we are going to need them to perform if we go deep in the playoffs. Seniors Willie Stewart and Jeremy Gerring provided some positive offense for us at the end. It was good to see those kinds of guys get into this game. We need them for districts.”
Kendall finished the afternoon with 16 saves. Groton-Dunstable outshot the Patriots 25-19 and wrap up the season with a pair of home games with Wachusett and Westborough.