SOCCER: ’I live for this!’ Rams best Knights on PKs in epic LL quarterfinal

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CHESHIRE — Penalty kicks are generally thought of as a high source of stress for goalies. Cheshire junior keeper Sophia Bates said she doesn’t mind.

Bates came through with the biggest of her 14 shutouts this season in a 1-0 Class LL quarterfinal win over No. 9 Southington on Saturday night at Alumni Field.

The No. 1 Rams won 3-1 in PK’s behind goals from Haley Shaw, Abby Sink and Ava Sink. Sink provided the clincher that sends unbeaten Cheshire to the Class LL semifinals on Wednesday against No. 4 Ridgefield.

Southington’s Jess Carr and Riley Prozzo both hit the post for Southington with their PKs. Sofia Scalise’s shot was saved by Bates.

“I like taking PK’s,” Bates said. “I feel that’s my jam. I took a deep breath and knew I got this, and I had these amazing teammates backing me up.

“It’s just amazing. I had to get in their heads a little bit and I started dancing around. It’s mostly a mind game.”

Southington goalie Margaret Miller made a save on Ainsley Dziura and Julia Rusiecki connected for Southington (11-4-4) to keep the Blue Knights alive before Sink, a sophomore, sealed the victory with a shot to the back of the net. 

“There was a lot of pressure, but I just let everything go and whatever happens, happens,” Sink said. “It just worked out. Confidence is key. If you are shaky, it may not go your way. We all worked so hard and it felt good to get this game.”

“Our keeper is so tuned-in during the game,” Cheshire coach Kylee McIntosh said. “In overtime, she said, ‘I love this! I live for this!’ You would expect a goalie to be nervous in a situation like this, but it was perfect.”

Cheshire improved to 20-0-1 with the win. The Lady Rams will join the Cheshire boys team in the final four. Those Rams defeated Notre Dame-West Haven 6-0 in the first of two state quarterfinals in Ramland on Saturday.

The girls game was a far, far more competitive affair.

“Both sides are very good and they have some top-tier players going to very good schools, so we knew that coming in,” McIntosh said. “It was a clean game. I thought the calls were good and the challenges were good, and that’s they type of game you want to be in.”

The squads were scoreless after regulation. It was a high level of soccer on Alumni Field. Both sides had their chances in a physical and well played first 80 minutes that were contested mainly in the midfield.

“It’s a great game, two great teams,” Southington coach Mike Linehan said. “If they are No. 1, we’ve got to be close to No. 2. They are a good team and it’s well deserved. I give them a lot of credit. I just wish we didn’t lose on penalty kicks. It’s a weird way to lose.”

Both sides had their chances and neither team made any big mistakes. Southington had the best shot of the first half off the leg of sophomore Taylor Walwyn. The play came in the ninth minute and stemmed off of a throw-in. Walwyn made a move, squared up in the box in front of the net and unloaded. 

Bates made a diving save on the point-blank shot.

Cheshire senior Gabby Tirado, the SCC Girls Soccer Player of the Year, drew a foul in the closing seconds just outside the right perimeter of the box. The Rams got a free kick off with eight seconds to go, but couldn’t put it in.

Also with shots in the first half for Southington were Sophia Chisholm-Gonzalez, Sage Carmody and Prozzo.

Tirado took a shot in the 15th minute. Then the Rams put a corner kick on the head of Leah Farrell that caromed off target a minute later. 

Cheshire’s Anna Hurlbut took a free kick from 20 yards in the 22nd minute that went wide right.

The solid play continued into the second half.

Cheshire’s Leah Pisani had a shot on target in the 48th minute that was gathered by Miller. Hurlbut took a shot a minute later that was also collected by Miller as the Rams started to build some momentum. A Cheshire corner shortly followed that was cleared away by the Southington defense.

Southington countered with its first corner kick of the game in the 52nd minute, then controlled the next 15 minutes.

Cheshire fouled Southington and Prozzo took aim from 29 yards away. She looked to play it short, but it was well defended by the Rams.

Cheshire built a threat in the 74th minute. It resulted in a Haley Shaw shot and a Miller save. Cheshire followed it up with a corner kick that was collected by Miller.

A Southington foul was called at the 15-yard line on the right sideline. Hurlbut hit it short to Tirado in the box; Miller made the save without much issue.

Cheshire pressed and got its third corner kick of the second half only to see it cleared away by the Southington defense.

Cheshire earned another corner kick in the 85th minute. Eva Fiala put a shot on goal that was handled in traffic by Miller. 

Southington earned back-to-back corners in the 78th mintute. Cheshire cleared both away.

Cheshire had the last shot in regulation. Fiala again got a leg on it and again it was cleared away by Southington.

Tirado had the best look in the first 10-minute overtime. The senior broke loose down the left sideline and missed the left post by inches in the 87th minute.

Southington had a free kick and a corner in the final minute of the first overtime. Bates came through with a clutch save for the Rams.

Moving into the second OT, Cheshire had a corner kick in the 97th and 98th minutes. Both were stopped by Southington as the final seconds ticked off and the game headed to penalty kicks.

“This was an insane win,” Tirado said. “A lot of club teammates were on Southington and it was a hard-fought game. It’s always tough to lose in PKs, but it worked in our favor today. We showed why were were No. 1 in the state today.”

Cheshire is the SCC Tournament champion and tied the school’s best regular-season record at 15-0-1, initially set in 2007.

Cheshire is seeking its third ever state championship and the first since 2005.

“We’ve been doubted. We’ve been told we aren’t as good as the FCIAC and the CCC, and here we are and we beat an FCIAC team and CCC team. Our undefeated season was for a reason,” McIntosh said.

Linehan said he’s going to miss his seniors.

“We are going to miss them,” Linehan said. “The game was a battle back and forth. I’m glad we brought that type of soccer to this part of the state. The girls proved they belonged. Not one team had a quality chance. We were just battling each other.

“I wish Cheshire the best because their seniors deserve to win a state championship for this part of the state.”


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