CLINTON — Neither of Friday’s participants in the Shoreline Conference girls soccer tournament final qualified for last year’s field. In fact, both teams finished below .500.
Both teams pulled seeded upsets in the semifinals this season to get to the Indian River Complex on Friday under first-year head coaches. And it ended up being a close game as one with a league championship on the line should be.
No. 3 seed Haddam-Killingworth edged No. 4 Valley Regional 3-2 to win the championship.
“I cannot even imagine being here. I’ve had three different coaches. To think that we would be here and win is crazy,” said senior centerback Ashley Duncanson.
Said H-K coach Mike Shea: “They gained confidence in themselves throughout the year. They kept on getting stronger and stronger. By about our fourth win, we knew we could beat anybody.”
Duncanson, like the other seniors in the Cougars’ program, has been through the rough times: no state or league tournament berths the past three seasons. And at the very first practice of the season, Duncanson injured her wrist.
Duncanson missed the next two weeks, but healed in time to be in the starting lineup for the opener and lead the team to this point.
“I thought she had a heck of a game,” Shea said. “Even our last game to get us here, it’s all because of her strength in the back there, to keep the back line strong. It all revolves around Ashley.”
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) November 9, 2019
Haddam-Killingworth put together a fine season at 14-4-1. The Cougars won a pair of games in the Shoreline tournament, including at Old Lyme, the reigning four-time Class S state champion, in the semifinals on the road.
Haddam-Killingworth had defeated Valley Regional twice during the regular season and led 2-0 on Friday afternoon. But the Warriors (10-6-3), who knocked off top seed Portland in the semifinals, fought back, getting a goal just before halftime, then the tying goal by Ellie Cost less than 5 minutes into the second half.
“The girls were able to pick themselves up,” Valley Regional coach Lauren McDonald said.
The deciding goal came in the 55th minute. Yumi Imai was able to chip the ball over the head of Valley Regional goalkeeper Alexis DellaRocco. The ball bounced into the net.
“It was a defensive breakdown. There wasn’t much Lexi (DellaRocco) could have done at that point,” McDonald said. “Unfortunately, it went against us when we had the momentum.”
Then goalkeeper Sophia Torello, Duncanson and the rest of the Cougars’ defense did the rest as time slowly ticked away.
“It was really, really stressful. Valley is super-good at capitalizing on our mistakes. We kind of played sloppy soccer at the end, but we got the job done,” Duncanson said. “(Torello’s) saves were really great. Once it gets by us, all you can really do is look and hope it doesn’t go in. I’m super thankful for her, she is an amazing goalie. She saves us all the time.”
Said McDonald: “I admire Mike as a coach. He has done a good job with the program. I’m happy for him. … This wasn’t the result we wanted, but I’m really proud of the girls for what they have accomplished thus far.”
It only took 47 seconds for Haddam-Killingworth to score. Autumn Walton headed in Morgan Madore’s corner kick for the goal. The Cougars added their second goal 10 minutes later. Hadley Commerford off of Kedarjah Lewis’ assist.
Valley cut the deficit in half. Ava Duval slid it past Torello with 2:44 left before halftime. Samantha Calamari had the assist.
STAR OF THE GAME
Haddam-Killingworth’S defense, led by goalkeeper Sophia Torello, who had six crucial saves, some of them of the diving variety, in the second half to help preserve the win for the Cougars.
“(I looked at the clock) probably every 4 seconds at the end. I was literally looking and it would only be like 3 seconds later. I looked back so many times, I wanted the game to be over.”
— Haddam-Killingworth center back Ashley Duncanson