WEST HAVEN — Two regular-season games couldn’t settle it. Two halves of regulation couldn’t settle it. Two overtime periods couldn’t settle it.
So penalty kicks were needed Thursday night to decide the best Southern Connecticut Conference girls soccer team in 2018.
And it was Shelton that had the final say … barely.
The second-seeded Gaels made their first three penalty kicks then held on to prevail 3-2 in the PK session over top-seeded Mercy to win the league championship at West Haven High’s Ken Strong Stadium.
“It was a test of wills tonight. I think we wanted this game just a little bit more,” Shelton coach Marvin Miller said. “We dug down. Revenge is always good. Better we lose the last game (to Mercy in the regular-season finale) and come back with revenge in mind. It always gives you that extra motivation.
Said Shelton goalkeeper Arianna Malick :This was just pride, how hard we worked to get here.”
This was the third time in the last four years for the SCC final has been decided by penalty kicks.
“Two excellent teams left it all on the field. They executed one more PK than we did,” Mercy coach Marcus Harley said. “It was a physical game, lots of pushing and shoving, a yellow card (issued to Mercy). They played with six defenders back there so it was hard to penetrate. But we had our chances and we missed some. They had chances and missed some. It was a defensive battle.”
Both Miller and Harley said the teams have been practicing penalty kicks for a few weeks. The Gaels (17-1-1) made their first three: Haley Adcox, Leya Vohra and Haley Oko.
Miller noted that Oko was a last-second substitution into the PK lineup for Maggie Howard, who toughed it out throughout the game with an injured foot.
Malick, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, made a diving save to her right on the first PK by Lindsay Stevenson.
“The way she was positioned, she (Stevenson) was shooting to the right. So I moved a little to the left so she thought I was off-center,” Malick said. “And generally, when a forward kicks, they look down before they shoot. So when she looked down, I moved to the right a little bit. She thinks the right is (still) open.”
The Gaels missed the last two and Madison Webster and Emma McMurray made theirs for the Tigers (16-2-1). But Kaila Lujambio fired over the crossbar to set off Shelton’s celebration.
“Like I said to them (the players), if the first state game goes to PKs, it’s the same five (in the lineup), the same order, I have confidence in them. They nailed it every single time in practice. All girls under 18, the pressure. I would have been nervous, too. You would have been nervous.”
This was Shelton’s fifth appearance in the final, all in this decade. The Gaels’ two titles came in 2010 and 2015. This would have been Mercy’s first outright title. The Tigers were last in the final in 2007.
Shelton had the only three shots in the first overtime period, the last one being the hardest off the foot of Vohra, right over the crossbar with 35 seconds left.
It was a scoreless first half with minimal scoring opportunities. The action picked up in the second half, but very few on net. Shelton had a pair of quality shots with under 2 minutes left in regulation, but neither tested Mercy goalkeeper Allesandra Fronc.
Fronc posted three shutouts in the tournament
The top two seeds split during the season, each winning 2-0 at home. That was the only loss each team suffered heading into Thursday night.