GREENWICH — The excitement built and the tension mounted as Wednesday’s FAA girls soccer tournament semifinal showdown between Greenwich Academy and Sacred Heart Greenwich progressed and after 100 minutes of intense action, nothing was settled as the score was tied at 3-3.
Then, the pressure-packed game became even more nerve-wracking for the rivals, their coaches and fans, as the matchup went to a penalty shootout.
All eyes were on each player and goalie, as they attempted their respective shots, which saw Greenwich Academy convert two more than Sacred Heart.
Making four of their penalty shots, second-seeded Greenwich Academy defeated third-seeded Sacred Heart 4-3 on penalty kicks in the FAA semifinals at GA.
The Gators advanced to Friday’s 2 p.m. championship game, where it will host fourth-seeded Greens Farms Academy. The Dragons upset top-seeded St. Luke’s in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
When the game went to a penalty shootout following two scoreless 10-minute overtime sessions, Tessa Brooks, Taylor Lane, Christina Maldonado and Emily Hock each made their penalty kick attempts for GA (11-3-3). Fernanda Serna and Alana Frederick each converted their penalty kicks for the Tigers. Gators sophomore goalie Ella Fugelsang made a save on Sacred Heart’s fourth attempt, clinching the win for GA and a berth in the title game.
“There were honestly, no emotions out there for me at that time,” said Fugelsang, who finished the game with eight saves. “I was just focusing on me and the kicker and I was trying to do my best to make the save. I knew if I saved it, we’d win.”
Like the regular-season matchup between the Tigers and Gators, which featured several lead changes, Wednesday’s game was a back-and-forth affair. Junior forward/midfielder Taylor Lane tallied twice, while junior forward Tessa Brooks scored one goal for Greenwich Academy, which beat Hopkins School for the FAA title last season.
“A lot of credit goes to our goalie, who had our backs,” Lane said. “It was a gritty game, anyone could have won today. It came down to finishing and being scrappy in the final third.”
Said Brooks: “We knew it was going to be a hard game, they gave us our best match earlier in the year. Sacred Heart is a good, fast, aggressive team with good foot skills. We had to focus on playing our game and mentally checking in.”
Sacred Heart junior Amelia Sheehan forced overtime by tallying midway through the second half. Setting her up for the goal was sophomore forward Lara Patricio. The loss ended a 12-7-1 season for a much-improved Sacred Heart squad.
“When a game goes to penalty kicks, it’s like a lottery, anyone can win,” Tigers coach Stuart Smith said. “We were excited for the game and had a lot of emotional energy going into the game and that may have made us a bit tight in the first half. But we grew into the game as it went on and got stronger.”
The Tigers who have had a penchant for scoring early in recent games, continued their trend, taking a 1-0 advantage 1:26 into the first half. Receiving a pass from Frederick, junior forward Leah Atkins controlled the ball outside the box and deposited a shot inside the left post from approximately 30 yards out, giving the Tigers a 1-0 edge.
Senior goalie Athena Corroon rose up to deflect a shot with her left hand, but the ball found the foot of Lane on a rebound and the opportunistic Lane finished, tying the score at 1-1 in the 29th minute. In the 32nd minute, the visitors gained their second lead of the day at 2-1, with sophomore forward Lara Patricio chipping a shot into the net, while Fugelsang came out high in an attempt to retrieve the ball.
Lane drew a penalty kick by getting fouled in the box and Brooks converted the attempt, making it 2-2 with just over 35 minutes remaining. Less than eight minutes later, sophomore Rachel Rogers lofted a pass down field that Lane ran down and deposited into the left corner of the goal, putting the home team ahead 3-2.
“This was such an exciting game, I don’t think we’ve ever had a game in the FAA Tournament go to penalty kicks, but I’ll take it,” Lane said.
Both teams had their opportunities during the two 10-minute overtime periods, with Sacred Heart building momentum as it went on.
“I really believed we were going to get the game-winner,” said Smith, whose squad lost to Hopkins in overtime in the quarterfinals last fall. “We finished the game really strong and played very well in overtime.”
Corroon made 19 saves in goal for the Tigers.
“We played so hard throughout the game, including overtime and we really wanted it,” Corroon said. “The outcome just didn’t work out the way we planned. All the hard work we put in paid off — you can see it on the field.”
Added Tigers’ defender Claire Liddy, who like Corroon was a co-captain: “Playing on this team and being a captain was the best feeling in the world and I’m going to miss it. This team was amazing.”
Senior tri-captain Karina Toub and sophomore Paige Lipman successfully patrolled the midfield throughout for GA.
“We always make it a stressful game, I knew the first five minutes it was going to be a high-scoring game,” Toub said. “We were composed and ready for it. Now we are looking forward to the final. Having the home-field advantage definitely helps.”
Said Lipman: “We were down today, but we have done that a lot this year and have come back, just like we did this game. We always stay positive and pick each other up.”
Playing through injuries to key players, GA find itself in familiar territory as it goes for another conference title.
“Everyone works hard and we’ve been piecing it together,” GA coach Alistair Lonsdale said. “We’ve had players get injured, including today, with Christina Maldonado leaving the game and we’ve had kids get sick. To get into the position we are in says a lot about our team.”