Hawks can’t crack Rocky Hill’s defense

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Woodland’s Rosealina Santos, right, pressures Ricky Hill’s Megan Nastri during the Class M state quarterfinal Nov. 14 in Beacon Falls. Woodland fell, 2-0. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The Rocky Hill girls were the biggest, strongest and fastest soccer team Woodland had seen all season. It showed on the scoreboard at last Wednesday’s Class M state quarterfinal.

The No. 10-ranked Terriers handed No. 2 Woodland a 2-0 loss — just its second shutout defeat of the season — and led Hawks coach Joe Fortier to say Rocky Hill’s defense was “absolutely” the best his team had seen all year.

“I think Watertown’s back forwards did a great job in the NVL final (a 2-0 Woodland loss) but this team was bigger,” Fortier said. “They’re physical and not dirty at all. They play aggressively and we needed to be stronger to hold onto the ball.”

Rocky Hill (14-4-2) lost to No. 6 St. Joseph 6-0 in the state semifinals but held Woodland’s prolific forwards and NVL Top Senior Keri DeBiase to just a handful of quality looks all afternoon.

“We definitely have a very strong and compact defense,” said Rocky Hill’s Taylor Poulin, who scored the game’s first goal. “We’re so quick. Our two center defenders, Brooke Lawlor and Katie Weaver, and our outside defenders did a phenomenal job not letting them cross it in.”

Poulin’s goal came on a counterattack about 30 seconds after an apparently missed handball call inside the box off a Woodland (18-3) corner eight minutes into the game. Instead of the Hawks having a penalty kick to go up 1-0, they allowed the Terriers to transition.

“It was deflating,” Fortier said of the blown call. “You attack in the frame and thought you had a good opportunity and it’s hard to regroup mentally in that half-second.”

Rocky Hill sped down the field and Poulin found herself at the right spot deep inside the box to knock in a ball that was deflected by the Woodland defense for a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute.

“We knew ahead of the game they were a quick transitioning team so we knew as soon as we got it we had to be a step ahead of them,” Poulin said. “The ball just came to my chest and I popped it in.”

The goal, which came just after Woodland missed an attempt to clear it out of the box, was reminiscent of the two goals that doomed the Hawks in their NVL championship loss to Watertown.

Woodland’s Hope Gavigan (5) jostles for position with Rocky Hill’s Jennifer Inho (9) during the Class M state quarterfinal Nov. 14 in Beacon Falls.

“That’s a ball we’ve had trouble with clearing off our line,” Fortier said. “If that ball isn’t deflected, (Poulin is) not onside and it’s not a goal. Sometimes you’ve gotta be lucky and we just haven’t caught many breaks.”

Rocky Hill settled for a 1-0 lead at the break and made it 2-0 in the 49th minute when another failed Woodland clear left Megan Rowe with an easy blast from the right side of the box to make it 2-0.

Rocky Hill’s defense withstood a late Woodland barrage to advance. The Hawks controlled the possession over the last 15 minutes but only earned a few good looks against a packed-in Terriers defense.

“Their goal is to never allow any shots,” Catania said of her defense.

The Hawks’ season, which started with 17 wins in their first 18 games, ended with losses in two of three. That didn’t stop Fortier from praising his team, which reached the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2004 and just the second time in program history.

“I told the girls, I don’t know how you can say this isn’t one of the best teams Woodland has ever had,” Fortier said. “With only three losses, the way they’ve played is the best Woodland team we’ve had. It just stinks we have nothing to show for it.”