— Mary Albl (@MaryAlbl) October 17, 2015
FAIRFIELD >> Coming into Saturday’s game against Fairfield Warde, the St. Joseph girls’ soccer team had tallied 64 goals this season.
Against the unbeaten Mustangs, head coach Jack Nogueira wasn’t concerned about his high-scoring and potent offense, but rather how the defense would respond.
“My worry was, could we defend them,” he said.
Saturday morning the Cadets showed they are more than just an offensive highlight reel. Led by a terrific performance in net from keeper Veronica O’Rourke, St. Joseph (13-0) held off a talented Warde (12-1-1) team to win 1-0 and remain undefeated.
“I was very pleased with the back line,” Nogueira said. “Player of the match (O’Rourke); everybody talks about Jenna (Bike) this girl, that girl, to win these types of games, different people got to step up and she was amazing today.”
O’Rourke was one of the bright spots on the morning in a great defensive battle by both squads.
Up 1-0 in the second half and Warde’s offense pressing for the tying goal, Alexa Montani almost tied it off a hard-kicked ball on target to the net, but O’Rourke was able to punch it away.
Nearly five minutes later, Montani was denied again, this time on a diving save.
“She had a phenomenal game,” said St. Joes Marissa Grasso of O’Rourke.
“It was a very tough match today it was a great game by both teams,” Warde head coach Tom Cunningham said. “O’Rourke came up big late in that game.”
The Cadets, who maintained possession a majority of the first half, had a chance to make it 1-0 early on, but a great diving stop by Warde senior keeper Mollie Kerrigan kept them off the board.
Later in the half, Warde’s Anna Glovin just about put one in, but a save by O’Rourke preserved the shutout and the line kicked it away.
St. Joes finally was able to finish an opportunity as Grasso found the back of the net seven minutes in the second half.
“I just hit it one time with my left, I looked up and saw where Mollie was and I just placed it in the corner,” she said.
Both teams had multiple chances to add to the scoreboard, but each keeper and defensive units kept one another in check.
“They are very lethal going forward with their forwards and midfields but I thought we had some good opportunities,” Cunningham said. “I thought we worked the ball through the midfield keeping possession. Alexa took two quality shots and she (O’Rourke) made two good saves.”
In a game that was hyped up, as the two came in as the last undefeated teams in the FCIAC, it lived up to the billing. St. Joes, which was beaten by Warde last year in the regular season and Class LL state quarterfinals, said it felt good to win, but last seasons results weren’t a motivating factor.
“A lot of people put a lot of stock in the game, my girls were wired, a lot of people talking about it,” Nogueira said. “We’re going to have more important games this season than today. I thought we played well. I got a funny feeling we’re going to play them again.”
Warde, the defending Co-FCIAC champs, have a good chance to meet St. Joes in the FCIAC tournament or title game in a few weeks.
For now, the Mustangs will regroup and get ready to face Staples on Tuesday.
“This is one of the top teams in the state and we played with them,” Cunningham said. “We played with them for 80 minutes, we had chances, they had chances, they worked hard out on the field.”