BURLINGTON – Both teams came to Burlington’s Nassahegan Field with something to prove this season in Newington’s 2-1 win over Lewis Mills Tuesday afternoon.
The Indians were stunned by a Class L second-round overtime loss to Masuk in last year’s state tournament after a 10-4-2 season in the Central Connecticut Conference. This year, they’ve moved up to Class LL.
“We’re definitely trying to make up for (the tournament loss),” junior striker Olivia Mullings said.
“We’re playing some different teams (thanks to the move to LL),” senior running mate Reagan Pelton added.
“We’re the third smallest school in LL,” coach Adam Wilkinson said.
The Spartans did all they could do last year, with an undefeated season, including a Class M state championship. But this year, they’re starting all over with a move from the mostly small-school Berkshire League to become one of the smallest schools in the mostly big-school CCC.
So far, so good for both teams.
Newington, 8-1, came to Burlington with just one blemish — a 1-0 loss to Wethersfield last week while outscoring its other opponents 29-4.
Mills zipped through its schedule 7-0-1 after a season-opening 0-0 tie with Simsbury, outscoring everyone else 38-4.
“We knew they were two very good teams coming in; we knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Wilkinson said. “Our plan was to rely on our counterattack.”
Lewis Mills’ trademark for years has been ball possession. The Spartans controlled the ball for the opening minutes without a real shot. Three minutes into the game, the Indians launched their first counter, resulting in a great save by Spartan keeper Mia Bylykbashi, deflecting the ball over the net.
“We were a bit flat and too sloppy with the ball,” said first-year Spartan coach Kofi Remey, who spent his previous five coaching years with CCC power Glastonbury. “I know most teams on our schedule.”
Bylykbashi’s save led to a set play by the Indians: a corner kick by Karissa Zocco to Mullings to Pelton on the left side of the goal. Pelton, with 10 assists so far this season, whistled it in for the game’s first goal.
The Spartans had their first corner three minutes later, but the chance went nowhere.
“We’ve been extremely good defensively this season,” Wilkinson said.
Nevertheless, after several more good chances for the Indians, Mills’ offense caught up in the 18th minute on a pass from Grace Annonson to Victoria Fleming, who put the ball high into the net.
The battle raged up and down the field for the rest of the half. Each team had good chances, but both coaches agreed it could have been worse for Mills.
A minute into the second half, it was.
Pelton served a pass upfield for Mullings. Mullings beat Bylykbashi to the ball by a hair and popped it in for the winner for her 11th goal of the season.
More and more Indians dropped back to help on defense as the half wore on, sending long kicks back upfield. Scoring chances for Mills came down to none.
But, for fans on both sides, each team passed another test. Each team can play just fine exactly where it is.