At halftime on Tuesday night, Warwick Vets girls’ soccer coach Tom Flanders told his team it should have been trailing Toll Gate. Instead, in a 0-0 game, the ’Canes still had life.
They didn’t waste it.
After being on the defensive for the whole first half, Vets turned up the intensity after the break and finally capitalized late, getting the only goal of the game in the 70th minute off the foot of Larissa Paolantonio for a 1-0 win against one of its biggest rivals.
“That was a real good one to get,” Flanders said. “Cross-town rival, they’re a good team. We’re a good team, even though our records don’t reflect that right now. This was a good win. This was a lot of hard work in practice. These kids have been working their tails off for us.”
Both the Titans and the ’Canes came into the game with just one win each, and a victory on either side would have gotten that team out of the cellar in Division I-Central.
As it turned out, despite having significantly fewer opportunities, that team was Vets.
“We definitely should have come away with a win tonight,” Toll Gate head coach Lonna Razza said. “You’ve got to give them credit, too. They played hard, and they got that shot and that was the deciding factor. That’s soccer.”
The tie-breaking shot came on the heels of a flurry of Toll Gate chances.
The Titans’ Emily Fox was dominating on the right side of the field all night, and she executed cross after cross to no avail.
In the 61st minute, her cross was bodied by Shannon Garvey, but Vets keeper Katelen Pick was right there to make the save.
Fox continued to make things happen along that sideline, but her crosses never concluded the way that Toll Gate hoped.
“I just think it was being a little bit out of position, not crashing the net,” Razza said. “A few times we got a head on it, we got a foot on it, just unlucky.”
Finally, in the 70th minute, Vets was able to get a clear, and it took advantage.
Casey Bennett controlled the ball near midfield and sent it up the field. With most of Toll Gate’s players pushing toward the other end, Bennett’s pass slipped past everybody, where a streaking Paolantonio corralled it near the 18.
She took one dribble and blasted it toward the left side, where it clipped off keeper Meghan McNulty into the net for the game-winner.
“I said, ‘You survived (the first half),” Flanders said. “‘Now it’s time to game plan. It’s time to get back to what we talked about.’ And they did. They started to spread the field nice. They started putting some passes together. With that came confidence. Next came some shots, and the next thing, we end up putting in a goal.”
The Titans were stunned, but they still mounted a few final charges.
In the 71st minute, Fox again crossed the ball from the right, where Abby Ellis got a head on it. The ball went straight up in the air, though, and Vets was able to clear it without any damage.
Four minutes later, Fox took a corner kick that hit a Vets player near the front of the goal and caromed into the front post. Somehow, the ball stayed in the field of play and again the ’Canes were able to clear.
“The ball rolls around, nobody is in front of it, and it’s like a pinball in there,” Razza said. “Just couldn’t put it in.”
Five minutes after that, the final whistle blew and the ’Canes began to celebrate.
The win improved their record to 2-7-1, while Toll Gate dropped to 1-7-1.
“Someone came by the other day and said, ‘You would never know watching that team practice that it has one win,’” Flanders said. “Just the way they carry themselves, the way that they come into a workout, the practices, the warm-ups, everything. It’s a testament to how hard they’re working.”
One big factor in Vets pulling out the win was the play of the defense – led by Kristen and Katie Gregory, Emily Almonte and Kara McCrudden – as well as Pick, who made numerous big saves in the first half when Toll Gate was relentlessly applying pressure.
Her best save came in the 30th minute, when Fox crossed the ball from the right and a leaping Lauren Patricio got her foot on it right by the goal line. Somehow, Pick moved in front of the ball and saved what looked to be a sure goal.
“She played a fantastic game,” Flanders said. “To get a shutout, a clean sheet here, with this team, with the weapons that they have, is really doing something. We’re very proud of her.”
Vets’ next game is on Tuesday when it hosts 7-2-1 Smithfield.
Toll Gate, however, is right back in action, as it hosts 5-3-1 Cumberland today at 5 p.m.
Razza is just hoping her team can bounce back from the frustrating loss.
“I’m not mad at them,” she said. “They played hard, it was just unlucky, and that’s what aggravates me.”