By John Goralski
Officials signaled the end of the contest, and the Southington girls soccer team scrambled onto the field in celebration. Sal Penta let out a sigh of relief, shook his head, and smiled.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t his team’s best game of the season, but the 3-0 win over New Britain was the certainly the biggest one of the fall. On the final day of the regular season, the Southington girls soccer team finally clinched a postseason berth.
After a one-year absence, the Knights will return to tournament play.
“Obviously we didn’t play how we wanted to play, but I told them to think about the game at Conard, the game at Simsbury, and the game at Farmington,” said Penta. “Those were the games that won us this trip to the tournament. Those were the games that will carry us over into the tournament.”
The victory was Southington’s first since Oct. 3 and just the fifth of the season, but Penta credits that to Southington’s powerhouse schedule. The Knights were able to inch closer to the postseason with October ties at Conard and Farmington. Five of their last six competitors are tournament-bound, and most are higher seeds.
With the win over New Britain Southington enters the postseason with a 5-8-3 record, but Penta knows that his team is battle tested and ready for any competition.
“I think when the time comes, no matter who we play in the tournament game, our girls will be ready,” said the coach. “Unfortunately, it might be Hall or NW Catholic. You know that we’re going to face a good team. I was just hoping that it would be somebody from a different conference.”
The Knights had two chances to clinch a tournament berth in the final week, but Southington fell short against Newington on Monday, Oct. 21. Carolynn Keal fed the ball to Jessica Goralski to give the Knights an early lead, but Newington evened the score by the half and earned the game-winner with 27 minutes left in the game.
Southington out-shot Newington, 11-8. Janelle Mangassarian and Margaret Mellitt combined for seven saves, but the Knights fell, 2-1.
“I thought this game might have been our best game of the year,” said Penta, “but we just had a few unfortunate mistakes.”
That wasn’t the case against New Britain on Wednesday. Emily Kemnitz earned her first of two assists when she crossed a pass to Sarah Palko on a fast break. Palko scored to the opposite corner to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. Caitlyn Krar fed Megan Power a perfect assist to give Southington a 2-0 lead, but New Britain countered with a score before the break.
Goralski scored the only goal of the second half, and Southington held on for a 3-1 win.
“You have to give New Britain credit,” said Penta. “They play tough. They sort of stay in the middle of the field and force us to work to the outside.”
Once again, the defense held steady. Mangassarian and Mellitt combined for four saves as the defense held New Britain to just five shots on goal. Ten games this season have been decided by one goal or less, and the defense has posted three shutouts along the way to score a win and two ties. Penta said that the defense will continue to be crucial as the Knights take to the road for postseason play.
“Our goaltending and our defense has been the difference all year,” said the coach. “Our goalies have done an outstanding job, and our back four—Erin Angelillo, Silvana Tellerico, Emily Maciejewski, and Emily Lippincott—have been our backbone so far. That’s why we had those 0-0 games at Simsbury and Farmington. It’s our defense.”
Can Southington advance in the tournament despite the worst postseason record in Class LL? Don’t count them out. The Knights were competitive against both Hall and NW Catholic in late season contests. The third time may be the charm.
“We just have got to finish our opportunities,” Penta said. “This game [against New Britain] should have been out of hand by halftime. It’s our decision making up front. It has to be better. Unfortunately, at this point in the season, you just can’t practice it. It has to just be there.”
Can they do it? They’ll find out on Thursday, Nov. 14. Match-ups will be posted on Friday at noon at www.ciacsports.com.
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By John Goralski