By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller and Jim Matthers
It all began last spring on the bus ride back from the state softball tournament. Coming off a season-ending loss in the Class C semifinals, Pierson ace pitcher Sam Duchemin was prodded by teammates into playing field hockey for the first time on the long trip home to Sag Harbor.
Her teammates believed there would be a special season coming later that fall, and Duchemin somewhat reluctantly bought into their vision.
Flash-forward to Saturday’s New York State Class C Semifinal at Cicero-North Syracuse High School and Duchemin’s journey from field hockey novice to bonafide star came complete.
The Lady Whalers’ junior goaltender stopped three straight shots in a nerve-wracking second session of shootouts to lead the Lady Whalers to a dramatic 3-1 win over Whitney Point.
After regulation ended with a 1-1 tie, the teams played two scoreless overtime periods and went into a shootout session where five players from each team have 10 seconds to dribble from the 25 yard line in a one-on-one showdown with the opposing team’s goalie.
The first shootout ended with each team scoring two goals as the pressure continued to mount.
Kasey Gilbride and India Hemby scored to start the second shootout session and put Pierson ahead, 2-1. Duchemin made two consecutive physical stops on the Whitney Point attack, which set up freshmen Ana Sherwood, who scored on the ensuing play to clinch the victory for Pierson and send the crowd and players into a frenzy in front of the cage.
“I was freaking out,” Duchemin said later. “They said to have a short term memory, and if you missed one, just go into the next one and that they had pressure on them, too, to score.”
Emme Luck scored Pierson’s lone goal in regulation and head coach Shannon Judge said it was the team’s team defense, anchored by seniors India Hemby, Kirra McGowin and Katherine Matthers, as well as junior Rachael Miller, that truly won the game.
And, of course, in the end it was the play of the Lady Whalers’ goalie that clinched the program’s biggest win up to that point since 2010, when Pierson last played for a state final.
“Overtimes and shootouts are all about heart,” Gilbride said as she enjoyed the win with friends, family and a healthy contingent of Whalers faithful. “Sam was nervous at first, and then just the more people that came at her, the more she stopped them, the more confidence she got. Sam showed the most heart on this entire team.”