Woodland girls advance to Class M soccer semifinals
BEACON FALLS — The top-seeded Woodland High girls soccer team had the home-field advantage in the Class M quarterfinals Friday, but visiting Stonington didn’t realize how much the elements would play against it on Woodland’s windy pitch.
The Hawks scored four times in the second half on the wind- and sun-aided side of the field as they topped No. 9 Stonington, 4-1, to reach the state semifinals for the first time in program history.
Woodland’s Haley Andrews scored twice in an 11-minute span midway through the second half to propel the Hawks.
Andrews’ game-winning goal came with 30 minutes left to play, when Alexa Casimiro drilled a corner kick into the box. The kick from the right corner sailed toward the back post, where Andrews leaped and knocked in the ball while simultaneously bowling over Stonington keeper Tatyana LaFrance-Boyce for the decisive goal.
“I knew I had to drive it because it was so windy,” Casimiro said. “The wind started carrying it out of bounds, but then it started carrying back into the net. It was an insane goal.”
“Thank God for the wind,” Woodland coach Cait Witham said. “It was a brilliant cross by Lex. She had a little bit of help from the wind, but if it’s one thing about soccer, you can always use a little bit of luck.”
Woodland (20-0-1) added an insurance goal 16 minutes later when Andrews cleaned up a rebound on a cross from Juliana Vilano. The initial shot came off the second corner Woodland had during the same trip down the field.
“In the second half, she did everything we wanted her to,” Witham said of Andrews. “The balls she played were spot-on. One of the things we tell the girls is that if you put a ball near the frame, anything can happen. If you make a back-post run, you give yourself a better chance. She made two great back-post runs.”
The Hawks added an insurance goal with 26 ticks left when Megan Sirowich knocked in a rebound from another shot by Vilano.
All four of Woodland’s goals came in the goal on the left side of the pitch, which is known as one of the breeziest in the Naugatuck Valley League. Stonington won the opening coin toss and decided to defend that goal in the second half.
“It worked out well for us today,” Witham said of the Bears’ pregame choice.
Woodland took a 1-0 lead just a minute into the second half when Hailey Boris dribbled into the top left side of the box and drilled a kick through the hands of LaFrance-Boyce.
Just a few minutes later, Stonington tied up the game when Hannah Johnson headed in a rebound from Lainnie Connor’s shot on Jenna Pannone (eight saves). Pannone stopped Connor’s initial shot with a sprawling save, but Johnson followed up by heading a ball off Pannone’s outstretched arm.
“We were a little rattled, but this has happened to us before this year,” Casimiro said. “We’ve been down or it’s been tied, and we know how to handle it. We know we just have to come back even harder.”
Woodland rallied with three answered goals to reach the first semifinal in program history. The Hawks will face No. 12 Enfield (13-2-4) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Middletown High School.
“We’re really excited,” Casimiro said. “We have to stay calm, but we’re going to work hard to make sure we’re giving our most on the field.”