WINSTED — A goal by Thomaston’s Mackenzie McCarthy with five minutes left in a 1-0 girls soccer win at Northwestern High School Monday afternoon marked a new high-water mark for returning coach Jen Ewart’s season-long campaign to change the girls soccer culture at Thomaston.
“There hasn’t been a big hype for Thomaston soccer,” said Coach Ewart in the first year of her second stint as Golden Bear coach. “I wanted to shift the mentality to believing they can perform.”
“Before, it was like a joke,” said McCarthy, a junior who’s suffered through seasons with two and four wins, an upgrade from the previous three years’ six-win total.
Monday, McCarthy’s goal qualified Thomaston, 6-7-1, for the Class S state tournament for the first time in recent memory.
“We knew we were going to make it,” McCarthy grinned while citing her coach as the difference-maker.
Twenty yards away, the loss produced clouds for Northwestern, 8-6-1, in spite of the Highlanders’ qualification for the Class M tournament on the heels of last week’s great win over the Berkshire League’s second-place Litchfield.
“We thought if we won our last two games (including Wednesday’s match at Shepaug), we could stay away from the 16-17 ranking (that produced a second-round wipeout by state champion Lewis Mills last year),” said Coach Jared Stotler.
“We knew they were hungry. We’ve had trouble scoring all year against the better defenses. We had our chances, but we didn’t finish early. That gave (Thomaston) confidence,” Stotler said.
Northwestern started with the confidence of a 2-0 win over the Bears a month ago, producing a slight advantage in first-half possession and a 5-2 lead in shots.
But the Golden Bears picked up their pace in the second half, forcing a nice takeaway in the box by Northwestern goalkeeper Rachel Barbagallo in the sixth minute and another with Thomaston swarming in the 26th.
In a game marked by determined defenses, the Highlanders continued to hope 20-yard lobs would connect while Thomaston keeper Emily Root stayed happy playing fielder.
A Golden Bear shot caromed off Barbagallo and the goal post in the 28th minute as a warning of things to come.
With eight minutes left, Viera Kutlovci slammed a hard shot to Barbagallo from the right wing. Three minutes later, McCarthy’s shot from the left wing went in.
“I’m just so proud of them,” said Coach Ewart. “They knew they had the talent. They just needed the mentality.”
The Bears have home games against Terryville and Litchfield today and tomorrow at 3:15 for a chance to improve their tournament seed.
Nobody considers them a joke.