WATERBURY — Tireless defense and superb net play by goalkeeper Jessica Johnson made a single goal stand up Wednesday night at Municipal Stadium and sent unbeaten Naugatuck to the Class L quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over North Haven.
The No. 2 Greyhounds (19-0) looked nothing like the offensive juggernaut that has scored three or more goals on 12 occasions this season, nor did the No. 18 Indians (8-7-2) resemble a club that is only barely above the .500 mark.
“I think we got away with one, to be honest with you,” Naugy head coach Jose Sendra admitted. “I think North Haven is an exceptional team, and we were lucky to put one in, in the first half and to be able to hold on because they came at us the whole time. … That was definitely the best team we’ve played all year, without a doubt.”
North Haven dictated play throughout most of the first half, but in minute 23, the Garnet and Grey took advantage of a rare scoring opportunity. Stephanie Santos, working to the right of the goal, faked left then dribbled right to separate herself from a double-team. The junior directed a one-hop centering pass toward a cluster of three teammates positioned just outside the penalty area. Sarah Magnamo, nearest Santos, actually whiffed with her right foot, but Katie Bottinick was there to back her up, knocking the ball past Indians keeper Maria Sanzari for a 1-nil lead.
North Haven had several chances to tie before the break, including Shabnam Elahi’s twine-seeking free kick with a minute and a half to play in the first half. The powerful, left-footed boot from 35 yards out would have buried itself in the top, left corner of the cage, if not for a jumping, two-handed save by Johnson.
Frankly, Naugy appeared fortunate to hold a lead.
“That’s what we were told,” senior Tori Pisco said, recalling Sendra’s halftime address.
In the Hounds’ defense, it’s hard to prepare for the intensity of state tournament play when your average margin of victory during the regular season and Naugatuck Valley League tournament is 3.9 goals per game.
“That’s the unfortunate thing,” Sendra said. “The hard thing in the NVL is that there can be stretches where you’re playing 30 people in a game, just to be a good sport.”
Naugatuck hadn’t played a one-goal match since Oct. 17, when it traveled out-of-league to Pomperaug, and hadn’t played a game period in six days.
But during the second 40 Wednesday, the Greyhounds showed an ability to play and win an unfamiliar type of contest. They possessed the ball more frequently than in the first, and though they didn’t generate many scoring chances, they didn’t allow many either. And they proved their conditioning is good enough to outlast a fast team like North Haven.
“I think we all were pushed a little farther than we have been in a while,” Pisco said. “But we kept in there. We knew what we had to do.”