MIDDLETOWN >> It seemed rather fitting that the first match of the inaugural Central Connecticut Conference girls soccer tournament was decided by some last second heroics.
Middletown senior Rajeen Mayo knocked in a corner kick from sophomore Alex DeFrance with only four seconds left in regulation to give the Blue Dragons a wild 3-2 quarterfinal round victory against Hall Friday afternoon at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
“It doesn’t get much more exciting than that,” said Middletown coach Nick Libera.
The No. 4 Blue Dragons (14-3) will meet the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal match-up between No. 8 Berlin (10-5-1) and No. 1 Glastonbury (15-0-1) in the CCC semifinals Monday night at Southington High School (5 and 7 p.m.).
The tourney’s top four seeds were league divisional winners Glastonbury, RHAM (15-1), Northwest Catholic (12-1-3) and Middletown.
The Blue Dragons avenged a season-opening 3-1 defeat to the Warriors in West Hartford.
“I thought they outplayed us and were the better team today,” said Hall coach Scott Ferguson. “The first time we played them we were the better team and today (Middletown) deserved to win because they worked harder than us.”
Mayo’s game-winning tally epitomized that hard work.
With the seconds ticking away, senior forward Mikaela Coady, whose 26th goal of the season gave Middletown a 1-0 lead late in the first half, dribbled the ball up the right side and tried to make a move on a Warriors defender before the ball got knocked out of bounds.
“I knew I just had to go,” Coady said. “There was no time left and I tried everything I could to get by her and the ball happened to go out luckily. We got that corner and we were all determined to get that ball in there.”
DeFrance launched a beautiful kick that landed into a sea of players stationed in front of Hall goalie Madison Hooper (four saves).
“I just moved through everybody and pushed all the way through, kept going and did not stop and kicked it in,” said Mayo. “The whole game was really all of us working really hard together. We wanted it so bad. It was all of us working together to get that goal in.”
Middletown goalie Desiree Hinton made 10 saves, including a point blank stop on Hall senior forward Allyson Swaby that kept things knotted at 2 late in the second half. Senior sweeper Marissa Aldieri and DeFrance also spearheaded the Blue Dragons strong defensive effort.
“Desiree Hinton made some huge, huge saves in the second half and then we just never really quit and ended up getting that last one at the end,” said Libera.
Warriors sophomore Kyanna Alleyne tied it at 1 with a gorgeous, leaping one-timer that sailed over Hinton’s head in the 31st minute. But Middletown answered when Aldieri sent a nifty forward pass to sophomore Samantha Fletcher, who outraced the Hall defense and tapped a shot into an open net to give the Blue Dragons a 2-1 lead with 3:48 left in the first half.
Middletown clung to that one-goal lead in the second half until Warriors sophomore Chantelle Swaby from some room up front and chipped a shot over Hinton’s head in the 68th minute.
“We had a couple of really good chances late but we didn’t finish them and then we left it open to have the goal snuck on us at the end,” said Ferguson. “I’m hoping that this will be a good thing for us because if we compete like this we’re not going to go far in the states. We have to figure out how to compete at a higher level.”
No. 5 Hall (12-2-3), whose only loss during the regular season was a 1-0 defeat at Northwest Catholic, had not surrendered more than one goal in any game this year. Until now.
“We’ve been talking about how we’ve never really had a big win against a top team and Hall’s a very good team,” said Libera. “They’re a top team. We wanted to try and prove to ourselves that we could play with them and I think we did that today.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Coady. “I’m so proud of my team. It’s fantastic that we got three goals. That was an incredible finish.”