— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) October 4, 2016
HAMDEN – There are ties that feel like wins and ties that feel like losses. Both the West Haven and Sacred Heart Academy girls soccer teams experienced these feelings Monday afternoon.
Trailing by two goals with 20 minutes remaining in the game, West Haven scored twice in the final 18 minutes, 50 seconds to force a 2-2 tie in a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivision contest at Sacred Heart Academy.
“We never felt like the game was over,” West Haven senior captain Gabi Prisco said after the Westies moved to 4-2-3. “We never gave up and we were finally able to score and tie it up. We knew we had to come out strong in the second half. We had to fight to the end and we got two big goals.”
Trailing 2-0 after the Pacers used goals by Olivia Franco and Caitlyn Buckley, the Westies were a different team in the second half.
With constant pressure from the start of the half, the Westies were unable to get on the board early and watched as an odd man rush by the Pacers resulted in Buckley’s goal off a perfect pass from Megan McMillen 8:32 into the second half.
Buckley’s goal forced West Haven coach Pete Trenchard to move senior captain Lauren Lewis up and that move, which paired her with Prisco, forced the play for the Westies.
“We had to make adjustments,” Trenchard said. “We pushed Lauren Lewis up a little higher. That was the difference maker. We started to get a lot of chances. I am very proud of this team. We never gave up. We climbed back from two goals down. We were able to pull it out.”
After Lewis sailed a direct kick high and wide 16:05 into the half, she was denied by a great save from Sacred Heart Academy’s Alexa Fiala off a throw-in from Prisco with 20:05 to go.
“If we play the entire game like we did the last 20 minutes, the result would have been much different,” Trenchard said. “In the first half, we sat back and let them dictate play. At the half, we said we are not making excuses. We went out and had a better effort in the second half.”
West Haven’s pressure finally paid off with 18:50 to go as Kelsey Gilmore set up Keegan Riccio in front and Riccio drilled a shot past Fiala to cut the deficit to 2-1.
After the Pacers’ Annie Cunningham shot wide from in close with 13:45 to go, West Haven again mounted the pressure.
Fiala made a diving save off a Lewis shot from 10 yards out with 12:40 to go, then stopped another Lewis shot off a direct kick 2:25 later.
Sophomore Erin Smith finally got the equalizer the Westies were looking for with 3:26 to go. A corner by Lewis found its way in the box where it tipped off MacKenzie Holy over to Smith. Smith quickly shot past Fiala to even the game for the Westies.
“It feels great,” Smith said. “I was just at the right place at the right time. I am overjoyed. I think we wanted it more in the second half. We are a team that is not going to back down.”
Sacred Heart Academy got on the scoreboard first in the game when Franco just got a shot by West Haven goalkeeper Alycia Morales 10:51 into the contest.
The Pacers controlled play in the opening half, holding a 7-5 shot advantage, including more quality shots. Morales was up to the task in the first half with six saves.
“That is how this conference is,” Sacred Heart coach Larry Bright said after his team moved to 1-5-2. “You have to fight until the end. We have more or less been in every game. You have to have a four or five goal lead to feel comfortable in this conference.”
West Haven’s best scoring opportunity in the first 40 minutes came when Lewis hit the post and Prisco shot the rebound wide with 18:15 remaining.
Fiala finished with 10 saves in the loss for the Pacers, while Morales made eight saves in the win for West Haven.
West Haven 2, Sacred Heart Academy 2
West Haven 0 2 — 2
Sacred Heart Academy 2 0 — 2
First half—SHA: Olivia Franco ; Caitlyn Buckley ; Second half—WH: Keegan Riccio (Kelsey Gilmore) ; Erin Smith ;
Saves—WH: Alycia Morales 8; SHA: Alexa Fiala 10;
Records—West Haven 4-2-3; Sacred Heart Academy 1-5-2