The Pilgrim Lady Patriots edged out the Toll Gate Titans, 2-1, during an exciting battle at Bend Street Complex on Thursday night.
“You can throw their records out, it’s always going to be a wild game,” Pilgrim head coach Tom Flanders said. “A good game all the time. They certainly were playing without a teammate, Gianna Cirella, and it added another player for them because they were working extremely hard and we had to combat that.”
Cirella, a junior goalkeeper for the Titans, is sick in the hospital and was on the minds of both teams that evening.
McKenna Leahy, who transferred from Toll Gate to Pilgrim after last season, scored the game-winning goal for the Pats with about four minutes remaining. The junior midfielder has been close to Cirella for many years.
“A lot was going through my mind,” Leahy said after scoring the game-winner. “There’s just been so much going on these past couple days. And I did that for Gianna. She’s been my best friend since forever. And just because I’m not on the Toll Gate team anymore, I just played for her and obviously my team too, but it just felt good.”
Gianna’s younger sister, Cassie Cirella, a freshman forward, scored the lone goal for the Titans.
Six minutes into the match, the first shot of the game came when Pilgrim’s Elizabeth McGowan had her attempt stopped easily by Caileigh Blackmer, the Toll Gate senior goalkeeper. A minute after that, Blackmer denied a try from Leahy in front.
Nine minutes later, Cassie Cirella headed down on a fast break into the Pilgrim zone before tripping over Madison Dowling, the Pilgrim junior goalkeeper, who came out to stop her.
Pilgrim’s Giulia Marsella dribbled towards the Titans’ goal four minutes later, but Toll Gate’s Elise Saccoccia played solid defense on her and knocked it away.
Nonetheless, with less than five minutes to play in the half, Pilgrim’s McGowan booted a free kick from midfield towards the left post and her teammate, junior striker Alexis Vieira, raced past her defender and blasted it into the net to give the Pats a 1-0 edge.
Six minutes into the second half, Toll Gate evened the score when junior Alyssa Silvestre assisted in front to Cassie Cirella, who used a header to put it past Dowling.
Pilgrim tried to retaliate immediately, but both Hannah French and Madison D’Amato had tries turned away by Blackmer, and then Saccoccia kicked away another attempt from Marsella.
A little more than midway through the second half, Saccoccia dribbled down into the box and passed across to Emily Ponte, who fired a laser, but Pilgrim’s Dowling made a spectacular leaping stop to keep the score even.
Then, with four minutes remaining, Pilgrim sophomore midfielder Jillian Woods drove down the other end and left it for Leahy, who fired a dagger past Blackmer and followed it with a fist pump after putting the Pats up 2-1.
Blackmer finished the game with nine saves for the Titans and Pilgrim’s Dowling ended with six.
The Titans fall to 0-14 with the loss, but the team left it all on the field in this one.
“This was the best game they’ve played all season,” Toll Gate head coach Lonna Razza said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them than I am right now. They played amazing. They came together with this week of crazy stuff going on and they just played awesome. They never gave up. I can’t ask for much more than that.”
Pilgrim improves to 3-9-2 with the win.