Hall hosted fellow West Hartford team Northwest Catholic in girls soccer Wednesday night.
By Paul Palmer
Wednesday night’s soccer matchup between Hall and Northwest Catholic was playing out like a championship fight – both teams were absorbing the other team’s best offensive punches, and then counter punching at the end of the field. Just when it looked like the decision might be going to the judge’s cards, the Lions scored two goals in 2:27 in the second half to secure the 3-1 win over the Titans.
“In the first half we played some of our best soccer of the year,” said Hall coach Scott Ferguson.
The two sides entered with nearly identical records and were evenly matched on the field. Northwest had the better of the chances early on in the match, with one shot going wide and another being saved by Hall goalie Gabby Deslauriers. The Hall defense, led by Talia Sortman, did a good job of keeping the Lions from getting many open chances at net despite the possession advantage.
Some of Hall’s best work came along the far sidelines where Sarah Punt and teammates had some good give-and-gos to try and capitalize on Punt’s speed. ‘”You can never question her effort and she is very versatile for us,” said Ferguson of his junior midfielder.
Ten minutes in, midfielder Sally Kritzman had the Titans best early chance on goal, but her shot across the goal mouth went wide. Up front for the Lions, Dolene Smith, Maeve Staunton, and Emily Nicholas worked in tandem to keep the pressure on Hall’s defense and their efforts paid off.
With just over 11:30 gone, Nicholas let loose with a blast from about 25 yards out that Delauriers had no chance on. Smith had a chance to make it a two-goal lead about four minutes later but Sortman got a foot in front of Smith’s shot to deflect it away from the net.
Hall would get on the board just past the halfway mark of the first half. Punt dropped a corner kick inside the box that Sortman controlled. The junior defender made one move to clear a defender and then knocked it past Northwest goalie Charlotte Polking to tie the game at 1. “After we tied it at 1, their goalie had a good save and as things didn’t go our way, we started to fade,” Ferguson said of his team
Both goalies came up big for their teams to keep things tied. First it was Delauriers stopping and controlling a shot that was labeled for the upper corner. Polking was in position when Punt had a close-in opportunity that she pushed wide to try and get around the goalie.
Northwest opened the second half just as they had in the opening 40 minutes. Staunton’s shot was heading for the upper corner, but Deslauriers got to it to lead three early chances for the Lions in just the opening 3 minutes of play. The Hall defense held strong and did a good job connecting with the midfielders to counter the attacks.
Just under 18 minutes in, Punt nearly put Hall in front but her high, floating shot on goal was pushed off the crossbar by Polking and was cleared away.
Northwest senior Shannon Fitzsimmons led a strong defensive effort for her side – running stride-for-stride with the speedy Punt and shutting down one Hall counter by taking Punt to the touchline and blocking her off the loose ball to setup a goal kick.
With just 8:06 to go, Fitzsimmons delivered a free kick from about 45 yards out and to the right of the Hall goal. Staunton and Hall’s Caroline Bevins battled for control, when Bevins went down, Staunton delivered a perfectly placed shot to the far side of the goal to make it a 2-1 game. Bevins was injured on the play and had to leave the game for observation and medical attention.
Hall tried to equalize, but it was the Lions finding the goal for the game’s fourth score. Once again it was a long ball, this time from Staunton about 25 yards away, that hit the back of the net with 5:39 to play to give the Lions the 3-1 lead that they would hold onto.
“What the difference was,” said Ferguson after the game, “ is that they can shoot from distance.” He also noted that he still needs to see his team play a full 80 minutes at their top level. “If you can’t play a complete game, you have only yourself to blame.”
Both Northwest (7-3-2) and Hall (6-5-1) have already secured spots in the CIAC Tournament and will use the remaining regular season games to gel and get ready to make a run at a title. “We are building for a tournament where any team can win on any day and move on,” Ferguson said. “And I told them we can play with any team when we play our game. We will be dangerous in the tournament.”
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