WOLCOTT — About 12 minutes into last Thursday’s Naugatuck Valley League semifinal, Naugy had just achieved something that no NVL girls soccer team had done all season: Get on top of Woodland.
But that lead barely lasted to halftime and disappeared soon after as the No. 1 Hawks rallied past No. 4 Naugy for a 3-1 victory, the first of two losses for Greyhound soccer on the night.
The Naugatuck boys later lost a 1-0 nail-biter to Torrington in another semifinal match.
In the first game of the night, Steph Lima penetrated the left side of Woodland’s box before dishing to Alexya Alves, who fired a sharp-angle shot into the right upper-90 and past the Hawks’ All-NVL goalkeeper Alma Rizvani for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
But Woodland flipped the momentum almost immediately and allowed few more chances to Naugy while putting Greyhounds keeper Cailah Baranowski under fire.
“We had to survive the half,” Woodland coach Joe Fortier said. “I thought we were playing nervous and that’s not our style.”
After the Hawks survived, they thrived. In the 48th minute, Alaina Neddermann fired a corner kick from the left side toward the right post, where freshman Shea Gerry rose from almost inside the goal to knock in a header and tie the game.
“Alaina crossed the ball and I think it would have gone in if I didn’t touch it,” Gerry said. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t go past the goal.”
Ten minutes later, Keri DeBiase put the Hawks ahead when she stole a ball just outside the Naugatuck (10-6-1) box, dribbled to the top and blasted a shot that deflected off a defender and bent into the right side of the net.
“I have no idea (what happened),” DeBiase said. “I kicked it and it went in. I think they said it hit off someone but it just spun and the way it went in, I just thought it never happens like that.”
“Big players step up in big games,” Fortier said. “She got rattled in the first half but she regrouped. Once she started playing with confidence, she took over.”
Freshman Alexa Casimiro provided the insurance goal on a 20-yard direct kick she tucked inside the left upper-90 with 13 minutes to play, giving the Hawks’ freshmen two of their three goals.
“It was one of those things where they’re going to put a lot of pressure on us, which they did,” Naugatuck coach Sean Dunn said. “We tried to frustrate Keri as much as possible. To hold a team down that has scored as many goals and not allowed as many goals as they have throughout the year, it’s a tough challenge to play 40 more minutes like that.”
The second game, a boys semifinal between No. 2 Naugatuck and No. 3 Torrington, was a thriller throughout. Torrington took the win when Shane Bierfeldt found Shane Walker in the box with about 12 minutes to play for the night’s only goal.
On a Torrington counterattack, Jairo Borja dribbled down the middle and found Bierfeldt on the left wing. He penetrated toward the end line, then dished to the top of the 6-yard box and Walker, who flicked it past Naugatuck (12-4-2) goalkeeper Fez Pereira for the goal.
“(Borja) played a beautiful ball to the corner and I saw Shane screaming for it in the middle,” Bierfeldt said. “I put it on the ground and it just happened.”
“It was a little Spanish flick. Or European, or something,” Walker said of his nifty heel play. “That was pure adrenaline. I just got there and got it in.”
Torrington’s defense had its hands full throughout most of the other 79 minutes. But the Red Raiders, led by goalkeeper Zack Paniati, shut out Adam Branco and one of the league’s most potent offensive attacks.
“(Paniati) made some unbelievable saves in the first half,” Naugatuck coach Art Nunes said. “We had shots just going by the post. They had good opportunities, too. It was just a well-played game.”
Both teams will kick off state tournament play this week. The Naugy boys are No. 13 in Class LL and are scheduled to host No. 20 Manchester on Thursday while the girls are No. 15 in Class LL and also host No. 18 Manchester on Friday.