MIDDLETOWN >> The Class LL girls soccer state tournament finally got underway Wednesday afternoon. A seeding snafu involving Suffield that forced the cancellation of every team’s tournament openers two days before might have thrown some teams off track.
But not Middletown.
The No. 11 Blue Dragons got a terrific goal from senior Alex Giardina in the 12th minute and rode that early momentum to a dominating 4-0 victory over No. 22 Conard at Rosek-Skubek Stadium.
Middletown (12-3-2) advanced to play at No. 6 South Windsor (13-2-2) in a second round matchup on Friday.
Like Conard, South Windsor is another Central Connecticut Conference team that the Blue Dragons didn’t see during the regular season.
“I know they’re one of the top teams in the league so it will be a good game,” Middletown coach Rachel Lemke said.
Middletown was originally slated to host New Canaan in the first round, while Conard (6-7-4) was set to play at Wilton.
“Everyone was in the same situation but it was definitely weird,” Conard coach Kerrie Massaro said.
Massaro has led the Cheiftains to a state tournament berth in three of her four seasons at the helm. A year ago Conard upset South Windsor in the first round. Middletown was another story.
The Blue Dragons scored a pair of goals in each half while out-shooting the Chieftains, 17-5.
“They were a strong team,” Massaro added. “They played well and had tough players with very strong shots. We stayed with them for awhile and had our opportunities but they dominated.”
Giardina’s goal was a beautiful header into the upper corner off a long, perfect direct kick from Jenny Barbour.
Middletown continued to put pressure on Conard goalkeeper Mackenzie Brink (eight saves), getting scoring bids from Kaitlyn D’Amico, Madison Flecther and Amalia Sessoms.
Sessoms finally knocked one in off a Rachel Gaudreau assist with 1:42 left in the first half for a 2-0 advantage.
“Our momentum and intensity kept going after we scored that first goal,” Lemke said. “I think (not playing Monday) threw us off a little bit but we were able to bounce back and get focused for the next couple of days at practice. They were ready to play today.”
Senior forward Meg Melly had Conard’s best scoring chance but Middletown keeper Jillian Gordon came out of the net to block Melly’s bid at the top of the 18-yard line.
The Blue Dragons added a pair of late insurance goals in the second half. Junior Courtney Vogel scored off a Madyson Fitzner corner kick and Sessoms notched her second goal with a burst of speed up front in the 69th minute.
“I was happy with the whole group today,” Lemke said. “They all stepped up. The girls know what they want … they want to make a run in this tourney. They’re capable.”