NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Valley League season got under way in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night when two of the league’s girls’ soccer heavyweights battled it out in the borough. Before an estimated crowd of 300 boisterous fans, including a frenzied student section, the Greyhounds pulled off a last-minute, 1-0 victory over archrival Holy Cross.
All night long, Naugatuck showed superior ball-handling skills and a penchant to turn on every Holy Cross kick that somehow found the front of a Greyhound jersey. But with less than two minutes to play, this battle was a scoreless deadlock.
With 1:28 to play, Sarah Magnamo took the ball into the corner, draped by two Holy Cross defenders. The senior forward shed her defenders and dribbled to the corner of the box. As Magnamo looked to make a crossing pass, she spotted a lane to the far post.
Without hesitation, she took off past another closing defender and let go of a shot to the corner of the post. The ball eluded diving Crusaders goalkeeper Suzanne Heston, rippling the net for the game-winner. That set off a wild celebration in the stands, as the rest of the Greyhounds chased Magnamo to midfield for a well-deserved back-pounding.
“We’ve been working so hard to get ready for the season,” Magnamo said. “Winning a game like this will boost our confidence level and make us work that much harder. Oh man, it felt so awesome when I saw that ball get by the goalie. It just felt so good to win this game as a team.”
It was a test of wills in the early going, and Naugatuck held the upper hand in the 50-50 balls. Holy Cross had few scoring opportunities, but when the call went out, Greyhounds goalkeeper Jessica Johnson (six saves) was more than up for the challenge.
With 14:05 left in the first half, Johnson stopped a point-blank shot from the corner of the box. Moments later, she punched a would-be shot over the top of the net to keep it a scoreless game.
“What a great first game as head coach,” said Jose Sendra, the Greyhounds’ new head coach. “This team is made up of two youth league state champions. They have unbelievable technical skills, and it showed tonight. We had the possession for most of the game, and Sarah is a very skilled player. She saw an opening, and she went with it.”
Naugatuck held a 13-6 edge in shots on goal and it was the defense of Kelly and Andrea Markure, along with Tori Pisco, Isabelle Verilli and Martyann Chromik that spelled the difference in the outcome.
The Greyhounds won more than their share of balls at midfield, with Kaitlyn Deptula, Natalia Carvalho, Stephanie Santos and Danielle Charette managing to out-hustle the Crusaders.
Sara Tarsi was a force to be reckoned with on the attack, pushing advances deep into the corner.
With 5:49 to play, Naugatuck gave Holy Cross a couple of breath-holding moments when Kathryn Bottinick unloaded a 15-footer that slammed into the post. Isabelle Moody hustled after the rebound, and her shot was deflected off the post.
“I knew it was coming,” Sendra said. “We held on to the possession for most of the game, and we just had to keep working hard.”