TORRINGTON — Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech beat Torrington 2-1 at the Robert H. Frost Sports Complex Thursday evening, but the real goal for both girls soccer teams is improvement.
Hearts coach Mike Mentone is in his third year at Sacred Heart after many years with Holy Cross’ highly-successful girls team. In the Hearts’ first year as a co-op with Waterbury’s Kaynor Tech, he has a core of juniors and seniors from a program that ran dry before he arrived, but “we’re still learning the game,” he said.
Veteran Torrington coach Mario Longobucco and his team suffered through years of near-disastrously low numbers and now, with his count up to 22 girls, 18 are freshmen and sophomores.
“Eight to 10 of those have less than two years’ experience,” he said.
So, after taking their lumps in last week’s season openers (5-0 Wolcott over Torrington; 9-0 Woodland over Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech), Thursday’s contest was a big one for confidence and experience on a more even field.
“We’re trying to build around a few girls — juniors Emma Mincucci, Ronnie Racile, Jennifer Lliguizaca and sophomore Janet Lliguizaca,” Coach Mentone said.
Torrington is in the same spot.
“I have so much confidence in sophomore (sweeper) Payton Graham and sophomore (goalkeeper) Abby McCarthy, I made them my captains,” said Coach Longobucco.
Senior striker Kristina Michaud is the third element for building in a Red Raider lineup that starts four freshmen and four sophomores.
Thursday, in an even match in which both goalkeepers — McCarthy and Heart sophomore Victoria Creaven — were stellar, the building blocks came through.
Each of the keepers faced down a breakaway threat among 18 saves for McCarthy and 11 for Creaven while the Hearts’ age advantage showed up in a 20-12 shot advantage.
Nevertheless, the Raiders took a 1-0 lead on a 20-yard direct kick by Graham midway through the first half while Graham, who’s played “for 10 or 11 years” through Torrington Youth Soccer and premier, was one of the best players on the field while anchoring the Torrington defense.
Mentone did two things at the half: He assigned forward Toyin Bilewu to stick with Graham — “Don’t let her touch the ball,” he said.
“We tried to get her out of the middle, but she’s so disciplined, she wouldn’t move,” he said.
Then, he countered Michaud — ultra-active on offense in the first half — with double teams.
Eight minutes into the second half, Recile crossed a ball to Minicucci, 10 yards off Torrington’s left post for the tie.
Nine minutes later, Torrington’s youth scored an own goal credited to Brooke D’Amato as the nearest Heart.
“We all play hard still,” said Torrington’s Michaud after another frustrating Red Raider season start.
“There’s hope,” said Coach Longobucco for the first time in several years. “The middle school has a team again. There’s more help coming.”
Meanwhile, there’s lots of experience left this year for both teams.
Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech 2, Torrington 1
At Torrington High School
SH/KT 0 2 — 2
Torrington 1 0 — 1
Goals: SH/KT — Emma Minicucci; Brooke D’Amato (Torrington own goal). T — Payton Graham. Assist: SH/KT — Ronnie Recile. Shots: 20-12 SH/KT. Saves: SH/KT — Victoria Creaven 11. T — Abby McCarthy 18.
Records: Sacred Heart/Kaynor Tech 1-1; Torrington 0-2.