WEST HAVEN – Defense and missed opportunities were the names of the game in the season opener for both West Haven and Sacred Heart Academy Saturday evening.
With neither team able to get into a flow, the teams played to a scoreless draw in a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivision season-opening game at Ken Strong Stadium.
“Being a first year coach and not knowing the teams, we go into the games with a whole team defense and a whole team offense,” first-year Sacred Heart Academy coach Larry Bright said. “We played good defense and we were able to all push up to play a whole team offense.”
Bright and his team were well aware of West Haven senior forward Gabi Prisco and had Prisco marked the entire contest. The West Haven senior had scoring opportunities, but was under pressure throughout the game.
“We knew that 20 (Prisco) was quick up top,” Bright said. “We just kept two around her. This is a great start. I loved the way we played the last 15 to 20 minutes. We played all out.”
While Bright and his squad will take the draw in the opener on the road, the feeling on the opposite side of the field was completely different. Assistant coach Liam Leapley and his squad were not happy with the way they played, particularly in the second half.
“We just fell apart in the second half,” Leapley said. “We did not possess the ball. We wanted to kick and run, and I think that exhausted the girls. We gave them a lot of opportunities.”
West Haven junior goalkeeper Betsy Magana came up big throughout the game, making nine saves in the shutout. Magana was at her best in the second half when she denied a blast off the foot of Allie Brennan from an angle five yards out with 27 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the game.
Magana turned aside a shot by Adriana Bogen from 20 yards away just one minute later and made a sliding save off a shot by Annie Cunningham with 8:40 to go.
“I thought Betsy played a really good game,” Leapley said of Magana. “She was in the right position and was under control the whole time.”
Magana’s counterpart in goal, Alexa Fiala, was just as good with eight saves in her shutout. After Fiala denied Keegan Riccio with West Haven’s best opportunity in the first half, she made more tough saves in the second half.
Fiala stopped Prisco twice within 6 minutes from 30 yards out, then made a strong save off a hard shot by Lauren Lewis from in close with 23:50 remaining.
West Haven looked as if it would notch the go-ahead goal with 13:10 remaining as a bending shot off the foot of sophomore Kelsey Gilmore tailed just wide of the goal. Gilmore then had another solid opportunity five minutes later, but her shot off an angle from 22 yards out again tailed wide.
“Without a doubt, we are disappointed with this result,” Leapley said. “We can play a lot better than that. Maybe it was nerves. That is not the way we expect to play. But, we are still young.”
Lewis, Riccio and MacKenzie Holy led West Haven with three shots apiece, while Brennan led Sacred Heart Academy with three shots as well.
Sacred Heart Academy 0 0 — 0
West Haven 0 0 — 0
Shots—SHA: 9; WH: 11;
Saves—SHA: Alexa Fiala 11; WH: Betsy Magana 9;
Records—Sacred Heart Academy 0-0-1; West Haven 0-0-1.