There’s great, and then there is what Methuen/Tewksbury coach Sarah Oteri calls “next-level great.”
That was the only way to describe the performance Sunday of Red Rangers goalie Kaia Hollingsworth. The junior made 39 saves, including a handful of larcenous stops in overtime to lead third-seeded Methuen/Tewksbury to a 2-1 win over top-seeded Austin Prep and the MIAA Division 1 Girls state championship Sunday at TD Garden.
Offensively, senior Carolyn Curley was the hero, backhanding home her own rebound 2:07 into the second overtime period.
This is the Red Rangers’ first state title.
“I am so proud of this team,” Oteri said. “I told them before the game that this is the team that I want to be remembered. They deserve it. They work so hard. I think we came out strong, but I was disappointed we couldn’t score a goal at first. I was not overly concerned. We kept battling hard.”
The Cougars came into the game 23-0-0 and fell a game short of a perfect season.
“I didn’t think we made a lot of mistakes today,” said Austin Prep coach Stephanie Wood. “We had plenty of chances to put the puck away but we just didn’t find the back of the net. Their goalie played outstanding. Hats off to her.”
Methuen/Tewksbury coach Sarah Oteri’s post-game comments here
Through two periods, the Cougars held an 18-9 shot advantage and 1-0 lead. Their goal came at the 4:42 mark of the second period, when defenseman Maeve Carey collected the puck at the right point. Her well-placed wrister caught the top near corner. Alexandria Santostefano got an assist on the goal.
In the third, Hollingsworth made a pair of great saves early on to keep it a one-goal deficit. After a third big save, the Red Rangers got an odd-man rush with their top two scorers. Julia Masotta broke in and fed across to Cassidy Gruning, who deftly sent a pass back to Masotta at the right post. She snapped it home to tie it 1-1 with 8:22 left in regulation. It was Masotta’s state-leading 50th goal of the season.
“They really work well together,” Oteri said. “They find each other out there. It was good to see them score that goal.”
That tying goal seemed to energize the Red Rangers, who ended up firing eight shot on goal in the third period. They got a power play with 2:36 to go, but Austin Prep goalie Hannah Aveni robbed Gruning to keep it a tie game.
Then came the overtime. Hollingsworth made great stops on bids by Aylah Cioffi, Samantha Taber and Maeve Crehan to keep things tied up heading into the second overtime session.
“I came out challenging every shot,” said Hollingworth, a starter since the seventh grade. “I wanted to keep my team in it. Every time they came down the ice I thought the season was on the line. Save it or we will lose. I’m so happy I can’t explain it.”
“Kaia picked the best day to have her best game,” Oteri said. “They (Austin Prep) have some sharpshooters out there. With those breakaways and odd-man situations, you hope she makes the save but you can’t fault her if she didn’t. She came up so big.”
On the winning goal, which came just nine seconds after an Austin Prep penalty expired, Masotta had the puck in the right corner and made a nice pass to the goalmouth to Curley. Her first bid was stopped by Aveni, but the senior was able to send home the rebound on her backhand to clinch the state championship.
The Rangers, who finish at 22-1-1, won their last 14 games.