CHESHIRE — While the North Branford and Immaculate field hockey teams are among the state’s top offensive teams, sometimes getting lost among all the goals is the exceptional defense they play. On Tuesday in the CIAC Class S semifinals, the defenses took center stage.
The Mustangs possess one of the top goalies in the state with Lauren Oskam, who made five saves in a four-minute span in the first half, and the Thunderbirds showcased their exceptional on-field defense limiting Immaculate to two shots on goal.
In the end, North Branford’s ball possession and shots on goal took their toll on the Mustangs.
After the teams went scoreless in regulation, Ava Galdenzi, the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year, scored on a breakaway with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left in overtime to lead No. 2 North Branford to a 1-0 win over No. 3 Immaculate at Cheshire High.
Galdenzi grabbed a loose ball at the 50- yard line, broke down the left wing and took her game-winning shot about five yards in front of the net.
“I scored on a reverse flick, something my coach and I have been working on in practice,” Galdenzi said. “When I hit it, I didn’t know if would go in. But when it did it was amazing. Our defense was amazing and their goalie was amazing, she is very good.
“It’s so amazing to get to the state championship game, something we’ve work hard for all year.”
The Thunderbirds advance to the Class S final against the Granby on Saturday at Wethersfield at a time to be determined. Granby defeated Westbrook 1-0 in double overtime Tuesday.
“Our goalie (Jaime Matthews) didn’t make many saves (two),” North Branford coach Babby Nuhn said. “But they were key saves and our defense on the field was amazing. This was such an up and down game. When you get to this point in the season, it’s not just about offense. Offense and defense is what it is all about.
“It’s great to get back to the final. But it’s not about me. It’s about the kids and our great assistant coaches. They deserve the credit.”
North Branford (20-0-1) entered the game outscoring opponents 94-6. Immaculate (20-2) entered outscoring opponents 91-8.
In the first half, the Thunderbirds dominated possession and outshot the Mustangs 7-1. Defense was the key with Oskam making four kicks saves in the span of five minutes.
Melanie Norton had two of those North Branford shots including one from about 5 yards out. But Oskam came running out of the net and made the kick save with 21:25 to go in the first half.
Immaculate worked the ball inside the 15-yard line four times. The on-field defense cleared the ball away three times and Jaime Matthews made a save off a Molly Coyle shot.
Defense dominated in the second half as well.
Coyle had the best chance for the Mustangs off a breakaway down the left wing. She had a wide open shot from about 8 yards out but Matthews was there for the kick save with 18:20 to go in regulation.
North Branford had three penalty corners in the second half but couldn’t get a quality shot off, setting up Galdenzi’s exciting overtime finish.
Oskam ended up with 12 saves.
“Lauren Oskam has been around for four years and has been amazing for us,” Immaculate coach Shannon Horosky said. “Our entire defense was amazing tonight. This season, coming into the season after losing six seniors to graduation we didn’t know what to expect.
“This year’s senior really took it upon themselves to lead us. Overall, it was a very good season.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ava Galdenzi, North Branford: She scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
“Our defense was so good tonight, but this was really a team effort from everyone.”
—North Branford coach Babby Nuhn.
North Branford 1, Immaculate 0
Immaculate 0 0 0 –0
North Branford 0 0 0 — 1
Scoring: Overtime-Ava Galdenzi (unassisted) 4:04. Saves: Immaculate-Lauren Oskam 12; North Branford-Jaime Matthews 2. Records: Immaculate 20-2; North Branford 20-0-1.