LOWELL — If the 12th-seeded Wilmington High girls soccer team was going to have success against No. 5 Dracut in their state tournament opener, the Wildcats knew they needed to exploit their speed advantage.
That became a more likely proposition on Friday afternoon when the game originally scheduled to be played on the natural grass surface at Dracut High School was moved to the much sleeker turf at UMass Lowell’s Cushing Field after the constant rain over the past couple days made Dracut’s field unplayable.
The Wildcats made the most of their good fortune and upset the Middies, 2-1, on Friday evening in a Division 2 North first round contest.
Senior Alyssa Bernazani netted the game-winner with 22:46 remaining as Wlmington executed a perfect set piece from the right corner. Cassidy Collins deflected the free kick to teammate Madison Grace, who then fed Bernazani for the easy shot past Dracut goalkeeper Brooke Boermeester.
In the first half, the Wildcats had taken a 1-0 lead by utilizing their speed on a well-timed run. Freshman Alyssa Granara scored on an assist from Bernazani.
“I knew that our speed up top was going to cause some problems,” said Hendee, whose team improved to 10-7-2 and will next face the winner of Saturday’s game between Tewksbury and Danvers.
“We’re pretty quick up top. (Dracut) is strong and tough in the back, but they couldn’t match our speed. Without question, the field benefited us. And advantage to us for having played and practiced on turf all season long.”
Dracut (11-4-3) was ultimately done in by a sequence that plagued the Middies throughout the season.
“The biggest thing that we’ve had challenges with is that second ball on a corner kick or set piece, and that’s how they scored,” said Dracut coach Dennis Goodine. “On several occasions during the season we’ve been scored on in those exact situations.”
The Middies evened the game at 1-1 at the end of the first half when freshman Jessica St. George knocked in a crossed ball.
Wilmington frequently tested Dracut with through-balls and long runs, but Boermeester, who is committed to play at Division 1 Siena, was mostly up to the task. She made five saves.
Once the Wildcats got the second-half lead, they were able to maintain possession and work the clock against the more physical Middies.
“I think, knock on wood, we’ve got everyone pretty much healthy,” Hendee said. “We’re a little banged up, but we’ll be good to go for the next game.”