By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Lady Knight soccer team beat Hall for the third time this season as the girls advanced to the second round of the Class LL tournament, but a 2-1 loss at No. 7 Ridgefield (13-2-3) ended Southington’s season in the second round.
Lady Knight coach Mike Linehan said he wasn’t disappointed by the second round exit. This team was the first to advance in the state tournament since 2008.
“When we went home on the bus, it wasn’t tears,” said Linehan. “It was satisfaction and pride of being able to compete against a team that has been in the Class LL final the last two years, which says a lot about what we’ve done.”
The Knights finished the season at 12-4-2, which was the best overall record the girls garnered in Linehan’s four years with the program. The level of confidence they exuded this season is what Linehan said they have to carry into next season.
“Four years ago, we didn’t know how to win,” the coach said. “Winning’s not just how you execute in the game. It’s how you practice and your total mindset of how you approach training. Over four years, the girls have now started to understand what it takes to win.”
Southington will lose the following 10 seniors to graduation after this season: Nicole Carter, Chelsea Cocozza, Abigail Connolly, Melissa Drexler, Ariana Gazaferi, Deborah Hannigan, Taylor Hubert, Alexa Imme, Michaela Nanfito, and Erin Palinkos.
The Knights began their state tournament on Tuesday with a 1-0 shoutout of Hall. It was Southington’s ninth-straight win and the girls’ 10th shutout this fall. Southington swept hall in three games this season by a score of 4-0.
Four minutes into the game, Kelly Doyle played a ball into the penalty box from about 15 yards out to Melissa Drexler who netted the lone score of the game on a backside goal. Both teams distributed even possession of the ball between one another with a fair share of opportunities on net in a scoreless second half, but both goalies also came up with crucial saves. Olivia Sherwood saved two of Hall’s four shots in the net. Southington took 12 shots on goal.
Southington’s nine-game winning streak and season ended a couple days later on a one-goal loss, 2-1, at Ridgefield in the second round.
“The game was a lot of fun,” said Linehan. “You know your team is going to be challenged, as we were. But to be able to respond like that, being away from home, should just tell everyone about the type of character and players we have.”
It seemed like Southington would have the upper hand early after Drexler scored the game’s first goal off a Taylor Hubert corner kick about 30 seconds into the contest.
“Taylor Hubert hit a nice ball into the box,” the coach said. “I didn’t even know Melissa scored. I couldn’t see it. So many people were in the box. I was even screened to know that she put the ball in the back of the net.”
However, Ridgefield’s Claire Middlebrook evened out the momentum in a back-and-forth first half by knotting the score before halftime on a corner kick.
“They were very tall and put one in with someone that was very tall on the same type of corner kick that happened to us at Farmington,” said Linehan. “That kind of put us right back on our heels.”
In the second half, the Tigers played a high ball off a free kick into the penalty box. Ridgefield’s Caitlin Slaminko came down with the ball in a scrum and propelled the Tigers into the quarterfinals with a go-ahead score and eventual game-winner.
Although Ridgefield owned most of the second half, Linehan said that his team played the way he asked them to play at halftime.
“My words to them walking into the second half was to play to our character and who we are,” the coach said. “Let’s play to feed and possess. Let’s just do what we’ve been doing all year and not worry about them. In the second half, we did all of that.”
Sherwood saved nine of Ridgefield’s 12 shots in the net. Southington took eight shots on goal.
The loss marked the end of the fall campaign.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/11/13/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-nov-17-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.