Girls soccer: Resilient Shelton salvages a tie

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Shelton girls soccer captains, from left, senior Michelle Gutierrez, senior Juliane Niedzwiecki and senior Jillian Engeldrum. — Ken Morse photo

The persistent rain fell on Edward Finn Field and the Shelton girls soccer team played on.

Shot after shot just missed the mark and the Gaelettes played on. Finally at 1:08 to go, 79 minutes of frustration was unleashed.

After a Sacred Heart Academy penalty inside the box, Kathryn Arena took aim.She ripped a shot and this time it found the inside of the post, settling into the left corner of the net just under the crossbar as the Shelton bench erupted.

That goal tied the game at 1-1 and the final minute ticked off the clock. No team plays for a tie but in the case of the Shelton Gaelettes, it would have been a shame to come away with a loss after outplaying their opponent from beginning to end but not being able to finish what they started until Arena got one to go.

“It was just an amazing feeling to see that ball finally go into the back of the net,” said Arena. “This wasn’t about me at all. It took all 11 of us out there to make this happen. The last few weeks we have been talking about, that it is all there. The willingness to work hard, the drive, the passion and it’s just a matter of pursuing that and making it happen on the field and I think we did that tonight.”

Shelton came out and dominated play right from the get go. The Pacers were unable to maintain possessions inside the Gaelettes’ half, as the hard-hitting purposeful defense of Jillian Engeldrum, Alyson Yakowicz, Abby Turco and Kristen Willey separated the ball from the attacker.

The Gaelettes were winning the 50/50 balls at midfield with Juliane Niedzwiecki, Michelle Gutierrez, Kristen Shuster and Sarah Skoronski coming up with possessions leading the attack down field.

“It all comes down to converting your chances,” said Shelton head coach Marvin Miller. “I thought we dominated them whistle to whistle. Fortunately for us, Arena delivered just a great free kick. I think if we had scored earlier in the game we would have put up another four. But the longer we went without scoring the more we started pressing.”

The aggressiveness by the Shelton attack led to a couple of offside calls that stymied its approach to the net. A few corner opportunities didn’t materialize as the rain fell harder making the ball a little too slick to handle.

When the Gaelettes did get a shot off, it found an obstacle more times than it found the net. Sacred Heart Academy goalkeeper Alexa Fiala (seven saves) received a little help from the posts and the crossbar in keeping Shelton off the scoreboard.

Willey sent in a corner with 13 minutes to play in the first half. The ball bounced around out in front with Skoronski and Kelly Hurd having a chance at it, until Fiala gained control to take away the best scoring opportunity of the first half.

Olivia Gill, Mary Lewis and Esebel Rosa came on to give Shelton a few more options as it tried to get one to the back of the net before the first half ended. Kaleigh Panek and Arena led the charge into Pacers’ territory — with Arena putting a header on a ball that traveled 15 yards over the defense. Emily Manzo gained possession before the shot fell short and the teams headed to the sidelines at the half in a scoreless tie.

It didn’t take long for the Pacers to cash in on one of their few opportunities, as they were outshot 15-3. SHA found a seam in the defense and took it inside the box at the 30-minute mark of the second half.

Shelton goalie Courtney Litts came out to defend a shot and made the initial stop but slipped and fell to the wet turf. When Litts made contact with the turf the ball popped out and the Pacers Emily Tokash was there to send it to the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Gaelettes worked hard to even the score but the more time that ticked off the clock the more times shots banged into the post or the crossbar. With 15 minutes to play, the Pacers were called for a handball and Rosa lined up a shot from 15 yards out but it sailed over the crossbar.

The one opportunity that had everyone on the Shelton sideline holding their breath came at 7:22 to go when Panek directed a pass out in front to Arena. The shot hit the Pacers goalie square in the chest and the ball came loose. As IT rolled backwards towards the open net, Fiala pounced on it just before it crossed the end line.

Finally as the game clock ticked down towards the one-minute mark, a push from behind inside the box set up a free kick from Arena and Shelton held off defeat and salvaged a tie.

“There’s no doubt that we can move the ball and tonight was a good example of what we can do bringing the ball up the field,” said Miller. “We did lose a lot of experience from last year but over the last few weeks we have been working hard at putting it back together and the girls responded real well.”

Shelton will be back home next Tuesday at 7 p.m. when its hosts Cheshire in a big SCC Housatonic Division showdown.

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