One of five Patriot League teams to make the tournament, the Lady Dragons had to travel over an hour to battle the Tri-Valley League champions, but it was well worth the trip, as the victory gave Duxbury home field advantage in yesterday’s quarterfinals game with Scituate.

It was expected that Holliston’s turf field would be an advantage for Duxbury’s speed, but the wind and rain played into the hands of the hosts in the first half.

It took just 10 minutes for Holliston to grab the lead when senior forward Kerry Ritucci redirected a shot to the right of Duxbury goalkeeper Emily Brook, sticking her foot out and deflecting the shot into the top left corner for a 1-0 lead.

The deficit seemed to fire up the Lady Dragons, who almost tied it four minutes later when junior forward Caitlin Burke went flying down the middle of the field but couldn’t pull the ball around netminder Becca Salant, who came out to challenge.

Duxbury continued to pressure the Panther defense, as Melissa Gavin rang a shot off the post at the 23:35 mark, and the visitors earned a corner and a direct kick over the next 10 minutes.

Holliston countered Duxbury’s play with a surge of its own, forcing Brook to make several challenging stops in the final four minutes that were hard to control.

Coach Emerson Coleman liked what he saw from his team in its first half play, and told the girls at halftime that they didn’t have to win the game all at once, but just tie it.

“We played very well in that first half,” said Coleman. “They are the Tri-Valley League champs so they weren’t just going to roll over and play dead for us. I just think we needed to wind it up in the second half.”

Gavin was obviously paying attention to her coach, as she picked up a pass through the middle of the field, out-racing her defender and beating Salant with a blast to the right-hand corner that tied the game at 1-1 just two minutes into the second half.

Play continued in the middle of the field for the next 10 minutes, as shots were hard to come by. But with 28 minutes remaining, Holliston had its chance to go ahead, only to be thwarted by sophomore defenseman Lauren Grady, who stepped in front of a Holliston rocket that would surely have found the back of the net.

The game continued at an even pace over the next 20 minutes until the tide turned in the Panthers favor, as a pair of corners tested Brook with seven minutes showing on the clock.

Holliston tried to force the ball to Melissa Menapace (23 goals) in the final minutes, but the Lady Dragon defense was superb in bottling her up in the middle.

It was anyone’s game at this point, and both teams needed a lucky break to end the stalemate. Fortunately for the Lady Dragons, Gavin was perfectly positioned in the middle of the field, running down a clearing pass and splitting a pair of Holliston defenders before firing a shot past Salant’s left and into the right-hand corner with two minutes left for the game-winner.

“I think the wind picked up in the second half and moving Caitlin (Burke) up top with Melissa did it.  If you’re down 1-0 in the tournament I think that move gave us a big boost,” said Coleman. “It’s hard to fall behind in a tournament game, so we decided to put them together for the first time. I think it’s something we are going to have to stick with.”

Yesterday afternoon the girls played #13 seeded Scituate, who they had beaten 4-1 early in the season, then lost 1-0 in a rematch. The winner of that game will face the winner of undefeated and #1 seeded Cardinal Spellman vs. Wellesley.