SOUTHINGTON >> Before the season started Middletown girls soccer coach Nick Libera thought his team was going to be talented enough to play with anybody in the state.
Turns out he was right.
The Blue Dragons advanced to the first ever Central Connecticut Conference championship game with a stunning 1-0 upset win against No. 1 Glastonbury Monday night at Southington’s Fontana Field.
No. 4 Middletown (15-3) will meet the winner of the other semifinal between No. 3 RHAM and No. 2 Northwest Catholic on Wednesday night (5 or 7 p.m.) at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
“What’s going to be great is that it’s at Middletown,” said Libera. “That’s pretty incredible. That’s a great situation to be in.”
Blue Dragons junior forward Kellie Gambell scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick in the 21st minute.
“I knew every shot that we took was going to be important,” said Gambell. “I knew it was going to have to count.”
Middletown was awarded the PK when sophomore midfielder Linnea Reich, who was sensational in getting the Blue Dragons offense in gear in the first half, made a terrific run at the goal and was knocked to the turf inside the penalty box.
Gambell’s shot ricocheted off the right goal post before landing all the way to the inside of the left post.
“When I went up to take the PK I knew I had to be positive and pick my spot like I do every time,” Gambell explained. “Well, hitting the post wasn’t really my spot but I went to that side and when it hit the post I got a little scared but then it went and I was like OK.”
“She came through,” said Libera. “Kellie usually takes all the PKs and is very consistent. She usually finishes them off.”
Glastonbury (16-1-1), which blanked No. 5 Berlin, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, had won 16 straight games since a season-opening tie against Tolland.
The high-scoring Tomahawks, who had outscored their opponents 72-4 and were ranked No. 1 in the Hartford Courant state poll, did everything in their power to get the tying goal. Glastonbury rifled shot after shot at Blue Dragons senior keeper Desiree Hinton in the second half. But Hinton was up to the task.
“We brought Rajeen Mayo back to defend (Maddy Lamagna) and that worked out pretty well for us,” said Libera. “They did have shots but most of them went wide or they went high or they ended up right in Desiree’s hands. She played a great game. She made some great saves and some big saves.”
Hinton, who made an outstanding stop on Ellery Queen’s scoring bid with nine minutes left in the first half, finished with eight saves. Glastonbury outshot the Blue Dragons, 17-4.
“I was seeing the hall really well,” said Hinton. “My team was leaving the field open for me so I could see the all every time it came in. I was there right behind the ball every time.”
Glastonbury had numerous opportunities late in the game to tie it. Junior forward Maddy Gray had some scoring chances, including a dangerous direct kick that Hinton caught. Evelyn Spencer’s bid up front was thwarted by Hinton, Taylor Walker drilled a shot off the crossbar and then Hinton made saves on shots from Maddie Riggott and Eren Cosgel.
“Every shot was very hard but my defense had my back on every single play,” Hinton said. “It was an intense game all the way to the last second.”
Fresh off a thrilling last second win against Hall in the quarterfinals, Middletown will now try and win the inaugural CCC girls soccer tournament Wednesday night.
“It’s not something we thought we were going to be able to do but we definitely had it as one of our goals,” said Gambell. “We pushed the whole season and we tried hard every practice and we never gave up and I think it showed in the games. We’re not going to stop until we get there.”