For the first time in five years, the Westfield High School field hockey team didn’t play in the championship game at the Bulldog Invitational Tournament on its home field Aug. 28 and 29.
Despite the disappointing finish, Head Coach Terri Towle’s team learned two valuable lessons: Never give up and play until the final whistle blows.
In the second half of the Bulldogs' semifinal match with South County Secondary School, junior Annie Martello scored to even the game at 1-1 and infuse some much-needed energy into her squad.
"I saw my teammate coming so I made a run to support her," Martello said. "I got open and I knew I had to make [the goal]. We just worked really hard to get that goal."
Martello's goal ended a frustrating series of play where consistent pressure failed to rattle the Stallions’ goaltender. Bulldogs had pressured the Stallions' goaltender consistently without any results.
With one lesson complete, the Bulldogs soon learned that the second lesson, play until the final whistle, was a little more heartbreaking. As time expired, the Bulldogs committed a penalty in the shooting circle, giving South County a penalty corner shot.
Field hockey rules mandate that if a penalty occurs in the shooting circle when time ends, the shot will be played until the ball leaves the circle.
THE GAME ENDED when South County's Erica Binzer tipped in a shot from Megan Wears, upsetting the Bulldogs despite a dominating performance by Westfield throughout the game.
"They got an unlucky corner, but I thought we played pretty intense," Martello said. "I knew it was the last play of the game, but they executed the play well and it was unfortunate."
Towle's echoed her players' frustration her post-game talk with the team.
"To play as well as we did in the second half and then give up a corner in the last minute of the game is frustrating," Towle said. "I think they learned it's not enough to just play. You've got to be hungry [to win] in the final stages of the game."
The ending sequence was one that Towle had warned her team about during practices leading up to the tournament.
"I talk with my team all the time about coming back from different situations," Towle said. "We came back in the second half. South County had very few opportunities but we weren't able to finish our opportunities."
This was the first time that Westfield did not play in the championship round in the Bulldog Invitational's five-year history.
Towle is hoping that her team learns from its mistakes at the Bulldog Invitational and acknowledged that it's better to lose now rather than later in the season against Concorde District opponents.
"It's rare that a team will go undefeated," she said. "You try and make sure that [losing in the final seconds] doesn't happen again."
THOUGH THE TEAM'S bid to play in the final game was cut short, the Bulldogs displayed why they are one of the best teams in the district. Westfield cruised to a 3-1 record with victories against Langley High School (2-0), Hayfield Secondary School (4-0) and Oakton High School (3-0).
The Bulldogs scored nine goals in four games and only surrendered two goals in the tournament. South County faced West Springfield High School in the championship game, which was won by West Springfield 1-0 in a weather-shortened game.
Despite the dominating efforts, Westfield players said they still need to step up their play.
"We can do better," junior Hannah Winfrey said. "We can be good this year. I want to win the district and compete at [the state tournament]."
For others, the sting of losing in the final seconds is motivating them to work harder.
"We can't give up anything in the last part of the game," Martello said. "It will come back to get us and cause us to lose the game. We can't let that happen again."