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Thunderbirds vault into second place
Cranston handles winless Smithfield for key victory
Isabella Balsamo sends a pass into the zone.

Having defeated winless Smithfield by a combined 15 goals in two games prior to Friday’s match-up with the Sentinels, the Cranston girls’ hockey team came out a little flat.

After one period, the Thunderbirds led only 2-1.

But those 15 minutes were all it took for Cranston to find its footing. It dominated over the next two periods, finishing with a 6-1 win. Sophomore Emily Ferguson scored twice while senior goaltender Abbey Torres made 17 saves.

Smithfield fell to 0-10 while Cranston improved to 5-4-1 and moved a game ahead of Lincoln for second place in the DeCosta Division. Everybody trails the Barrington/Mt. Hope/Portsmouth co-op team, which is 8-2.

“Obviously it was good to get the win,” Cranston head coach Ashley Pagliarini said. “I don’t think we played our best hockey, but we did the things we had to do to get the puck in the net.”

The Thunderbirds actually scored first, getting a goal from Sarah Pearson just 3:43 into the game. From there, it seemed like it the game would be a repeat of the first two times Cranston played Smithfield, victories of 9-0 and 7-1.

The Sentinels had other ideas, however, as they held their own for the remainder of the period before knotting the score at one on a goal by Courtney Sweeney with less than two minutes to play in the first.

“We definitely came out slow thinking we were going to roll over them,” Torres said.

That Smithfield goal served as a wake-up call. Cranston suddenly turned it on.

Less than a minute after Sweeney’s goal, Cranston’s Bianca Simeone took a pass from Maggie Gallogly on the right side of the net and beat Smithfield goalie Emily Sheehan to take a 2-1 lead.

And from there, the Thunderbirds kept the pressure up.

Two minutes into the second, Gallogly sent a long pass up to Ferguson, who scored on a wrist shot on a clean breakaway.

Six minutes after that, with Cranston on the power play, Lindsay Hadfield fired a slap shot on net that ricocheted off of Sheehan and right to the waiting stick of Ferguson. She pushed the puck in, putting the Thunderbirds up 4-1.

“I felt like as soon as we got that first goal then we started to get some after that,” Pagliarini said. “We started to get more shots and a little more comfortable.”

Ferguson was the catalyst, as her two goals in six minutes gave Cranston some much-needed breathing room. Her nine goals on the season are the third-most in the division.

“This year I feel like she’s grown a lot,” Pagliarini said. “She was a freshman last year. She’s getting a little more comfortable out there finding the net more and getting more opportunities. She’s stronger, faster.”

Cranston wasn’t quite done scoring in the second, though, as it controlled play for the rest of the period before breaking through again at the 3:31 mark. Simeone put a wrist shot on net from the left, and the rebound came out directly in front to Taylor Koretsky. She wristed the puck top shelf, past Sheehan, to make it 5-1 after two periods.

“Second period was our best period,” Torres said. “We scored the most goals, played the best as a team, as a whole.”

The third period was more balanced between the two teams, but Torres made sure nothing got by her. She stoned Shannon Reilly right on the doorstep toward the middle of the period, and turned away every other opportunity Smithfield had.

It was par for the course for Torres, who has been the top goalie in the division all season long. She has three shutouts, and leads the division with a 1.84 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

Only La Salle’s Taylor Peltier has a better save percentage in the state.

“As a captain, she leads on the ice and off the ice,” Pagliarini said of Torres. “She’s been making stops for us every single game. She’s’ huge for us. We always know she’s going to come up with the big saves and help us out. She’s great. She’s one of the best goalies in the state.”

Cranston put one more goal away late in the period, as Ferguson fired a shot off the post and Hadfield cleaned it up in front for the Thunderbirds’ sixth goal.

That put the finishing touches on an important win.

“It’s always tough to beat a team three times,” Pagliarini said. “We try to prepare the girls to come out every game, you never know what can happen. We always try to play our best every night.”

Up next for the Thunderbirds is one of their biggest games of the season, as they’ll play third-place Lincoln on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Smithfield Municipal Rink. Lincoln is 4-5, and a win would move the Lions ahead of Cranston for second place.

The next night, the challenge will be even greater, as Cranston will take on unbeaten La Salle, which is 11-0 in the state’s top division. That game will be played at 6:10 p.m. at the Cranston Rink.

“We’re just trying to get wins and play our best three periods every night,” Pagliarini said.


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