During the course of 80 minutes of regulation and a pair of 10-minute overtime, Shelton’s junior goalkeeper Arianna Malick was only called upon to make one save as the Gaels battled Mercy of Middletown in the Southern Connecticut Conference’s title game at West Haven’s Ken Strong Stadium On Thursday night.
But when the penalty-kick phase of the game arrived, Malick came up huge.
She made a diving save on the Tigers’ Ava Arcesi, after her team had taken a 1-0 lead on a successful kick by Haley Adcox.
Leya Vohra and Haley Oko, a pair of talented juniors, then hit the mark as No. 2 Shelton went on to post a 3-2 victory over No. 1 Mercy and captured its third title in the last eight seasons.
Malick was selected as the game’s most outstanding player.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Maleck, who led her team to a 14-1-1 regular-season record and back-to-back wins over Cheshire (3-2) and Amity Regional (2-0) to reach the final. “There really aren’t any other words I can come up with to describe it.”
The teams had played twice during the regular season. Each result was 2-0, with Shelton being on the winning end at home on Sept. 28 and the losing end on Oct. 22 in Middletown.
“We played a really poor first half in that second game,” said coach Marvin Miller who has reached five SCC finals in all. “We sat back on our heels and let them take the play to us. Our mission tonight was to come out fast, play hard and square up with them.”
Even though the Gaels were outshot, 2-1, in the opening 40 minutes their play up top was strong and over the second 40 minutes good pressure seemed to wear the Tigers down.
The Gaels missed one very good opportunity in the second overtime, as Maggie Howard got open on the left side and spotted Oko whose shot just was wide off a tough angle.
Each team set up its players for penalty kicks as Arcesi, a sophomore defender started it off.
Asked how she felt about facing penalty kicks under real game conditions for the first time this season, Malick said: “I was nauseous. I set myself a little to my left (on the save against Arcesi). Then, I looked out at her as she eyed the ball and shifted back several steps to the right.”
It gave her a head start on the shot, which, indeed, was intended for the right corner of the net.
Vohra’s and Oko’s goals upped Shelton’s margin to 3-0 before the Tigers’ Madison Webster and Kathryn Menard scored to make it 3-2. Kaila Lujambio match-tying PK attempt went over the crossbar.
“We practice PK’s all the time,” Miller said. “It helps. But you can never completely simulate game conditions.”
The loss left Mercy with a 16-2-1 record.
Miller improved his overall playoff coaching record to 3-2.
“It’s always nice to keep that on the winning side,” he said.