CROMWELL >> The Old Saybrook defense was tough, forcing Cromwell to score in ways they weren’t used to Tuesday night. But the Panthers used a first half penalty kick goal to defeat the Rams, 2-1, in a classic Shoreline Conference girls’ soccer battle at Cromwell High School.
The Panthers (9-4) controlled the ball early, but only had one legitimate scoring chance in the first 10 minutes when Paige Martin’s shot bounced off Old Saybrook keeper Mia Neas (eight saves). The rebound was covered up.
Ten minutes later Martin had another opportunity, this time on a breakaway, but Neas made a sliding save, one of many, to deny the Panthers early.
With 16:55 left in the first half, Cromwell again found themselves in the Rams box.
Emma Belcourt knocked in a loose ball over the goalkeeper, bouncing it off the post to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
“We got that first goal, kind of just a product of what we’ve been preaching all year, scrappiness and working hard,” said Cromwell coach Marcelo Caetano.
Martin kept attacking and it finally paid off. With about 12 minutes left in the first half, the junior forward controlled the ball and took on two defenders as she entered the box and was fouled. Martin kept the penalty kick low, just past the outstretched arms of Neas.
The Panthers led 2-0 at the half and looked in complete control.
“[Paige Martin’s] been a fantastic player for us all year, she’s our leading goal scorer and it’s all credit to her,” said Caetano.
Old Saybrook was down, but knew they weren’t out and came out of the break with a purpose.
Molly Beck made a couple of big runs down the middle before finally breaking through.
At the 27:09 mark in the second half, Beck took the ball more than half the field before finishing to cut the lead in half. Jocelyn Hanley had the assist on the play.
“The intensity level picked up by our team, that’s what got us back in the game,” said Old Saybrook coach Larry Bright.
As time was winding down, the energy picked up on both sides. Old Saybrook put the pressure on and Cromwell just needed to play defense for a few more minutes.
Panthers keeper Alexa Beauchemin (eight saves) made a couple critical saves down the stretch to secure Cromwell’s ninth win of the year, putting them in third place in the Shoreline Conference.
“She was strong for us in the second half, she’s been crucial for us all year,” said Caetano.
Old Saybrook drops to 6-4-2, but remains one of eight conference teams with a winning record.