GREENWICH — Eliminated from the FAA Soccer Tournament by Hopkins School the previous two seasons, Sacred Heart Greenwich’s season was on the line once again, when it hosted the Hilltoppers in Monday’s league tournament quarterfinals.
Leah Atkins made sure the Tigers continued their season this time.
A junior, forward/midfielder, Atkins’ two first-half goals sparked third-seeded Sacred Heart to a 3-1 win over sixth-seeded Hopkins in the FAA quarterfinals.
The victory moved the Tigers (11-6-1) into the semifinals, where they will visit top-seeded Greenwich Academy Wednesday at 2 p.m.
“I’m proud how our team grinded out the result,” Sacred Heart coach Stuart Smith said. “We had two FAA losses to them in the past two years, so this is a big win for us.”
Said Atkins: “We’re excited about moving on to the semifinals, it should be a great game. It feels even better too, because we beat Hopkins, which has been a tough team for us to play against.”
Junior forward Lara Patricio tallied a second-half goal for Sacred Heart, which received seven saves from senior goalie Athena Corroon and an effective defensive effort throughout. Sophomore Julia Kosinski scored off an assist from sophomore Riley Lipman in the second half for Hopkins, which saw junior Chloe Smith make 12 saves.
“Today’s game was difficult for us at the start,” Hopkins coach Gerard Casanova said. “We had some adjustment problems. Once we made those adjustments, we played a very good game.”
ATKINS ANSWERS THE CALL
Atkins has emerged as a key playmaker for the Tigers late in the season and she continued to ignite the squad Monday. With Sacred Heart in transition, sophomore forward Amelia Sheehan moved the ball to sophomore forward Taylor O’Meara, who passed it to a cutting Atkins. Getting a touch on the ball, then booting a short shot past Smith, Atkins gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute.
The home team continued to generate opportunities and widened its lead with 18:32 remaining in the opening half. Sheehan dribbled the ball down the right sideline and sent a cross to Atkins, who found herself in a 1-on-1 situation deep in the box with Smith. Atkins finished from close in, making it 2-0.
“Amelia did all the running, then she crossed it to me,” Atkins said. “Those are the type of plays we work on in practice.”
Scoring early has been the theme of late for the Tigers, who have won their last six games.
“We were able to set the tone and pace of the game,” Sheehan said. “They started coming back, but we kept it at a high pace. We have very good chemistry right now and we don’t want our season to end.”
Smith registered six first-half saves for the Hilltoppers (7-7-3, 4-3-3 FAA), while Corroon stopped four shots in the opening half for the Tigers.
“It was very important that we had a strong start,” Smith said. “Our team seemed confident and relaxed prior to the game and once we scored that first goal their confidence grew even more from there.”
STRONG SECOND HALF
Both teams had their moments during a well-played second half on a muddy, slick field. The Tigers extended their advantage to 3-0 on Patricio’s unassisted goal with 28:59 left in the second half. Hopkins closed to within 3-1 just 1:20 later.
Controlling a pass from Lipman, Julia Kosinski snuck a shot inside the left post, bringing the visitors to within two goals with plenty of time left.
“The end of the game was very hard-fought,” Casanova said. “We played a lot better in the second half then we did in the first half. But Sacred Heart is a very good team. They used their speed very well early in the game and found the seams early on.”
Seniors Claire Liddy and Laura Moore helped fortify the Tigers’ defensive play, making their presence felt on corner kicks and clearing the ball out of harm’s way throughout. Sheehan, Atkins, Alana Frederick and Patricio helped pace the team’s offensive attack.
“It was stressful when they were putting pressure on us at the end, but I trust my backline and we were going to get it done,” said Liddy, a senior co-captain. “Our backline has been working on our communacation. Right now, overall, our team is peaking at the right time.”
Added Corroon: “It’s really helpful having them (the defense) in front of me, they’re really playing well. We have been playing together for a long time, so our chemistry is strong.”
Casanova cited sophomore midfielder Jenny Fujimori and freshman midfielder Jenny Alaska for their effective performances.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Atkins set the tone of the game with two early tallies.
“The last two weeks, Leah has stepped up for us,” Smith said. “She is a great athlete and has shown that she can be a game-changer.”
SACRED HEART 3, HOPKINS 1
HOPKINS 0 1 — 1
SACRED HEART-GREENWICH 2 1 — 3
Goals: H — Julia Kosinski; SH — Leah Atkins 2, Lara Patricio; Assists: H — Riley Lipman; SH — Taylor O’Meara, Amelia Sheehan; Goalies: H — Chloe Smith (12 saves); SH — Athena Corroon (7 saves).