Hawks advance with win over Crusaders

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Woodland's Alma Rizvani makes a save during their 3-0 win over Holy Cross in the Class M quarterfinals Monday at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –RA ARCHIVE

BEACON FALLS — When the Woodland girls lost to Watertown two weekends ago in the Naugatuck Valley League soccer final, the Hawks were mad. So they went back to work.

“The loss fueled us,” junior forward Audra Blewitt said. “It was really heartbreaking and we didn’t want it to happen again, especially against another NVL team in states. The nine days, we worked really hard in practice. How we practice is how we play and it paid off.”

It sure did, as No. 2 Woodland shut out No. 18 Holy Cross 3-0 on Monday in the Class M state tournament second round.

The Hawks (18-2) advanced to the quarterfinals for just the second time in school history and the first time since 2004. They are scheduled to host No. 10 Rocky Hill on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Woodland with a potential semifinal game Saturday at a neutral site.

Blewitt scored twice against the Crusaders, both on assists by Jess Rodrigues, and Keri DeBiase added a goal in between while Alma Rizvani only needed to make two saves to preserve the shutout.

“We were frustrated,” Woodland coach Joe Fortier said. “We wanted to get back on the field. In years past it’s been difficult to stay focused but this year we weren’t going to end with two straight losses.”

Woodland’s first goal came nine minutes into the game when defender Alaina Neddermann stopped a Holy Cross advance and passed up the left side to Savannah Aviz.

Aviz made a nifty touch to her right, then dished to Rodrigues at the top of the box. Blewitt, streaking in from the right side, took a pass and drilled a shot inside the right upper-90.

“I can’t score any goals without this team,” Blewitt said. “It’s not just one person. It takes a bunch of great players and a bunch of great passes for us to score. I wouldn’t have any goals this season without them.”

To Fortier, that play exemplified a return to the style that earned the Hawks their first-ever NVL Brass Division title.

“When it starts in the back to the mids to the forwards, we’re dangerous because of our speed,” he said. “That makes us difficult to defend. When Alaina puts it out wide, it forces the defense to shift and it leaves Jess and Audra open in the middle.”

DeBiase made it 2-0 with 1:51 to play in the first when she crossed over two defenders at the top of the box and drilled a shot under the crossbar.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Blewitt struck again. After Rodrigues penetrated the box and had a shot blocked, Blewitt cleaned up the rebound and stuck a shot inside an open left side of the net for a 3-0 lead.

“We needed to be more aggressive,” Blewitt said. “We thought if we brought more fire and if we were aggressive when we were on the ball we would play better. I think that definitely showed.”