NHIAA D-I Girls' Soccer Championship: Little Green top Bedford in PKsBy JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 05. 2017 10:14PM
EXETER — Peter Lally had an index card sitting in his pocket from the start of Sunday’s Division I girls’ soccer title game between his Manchester Central girls and Bedford. The piece of paper listed Lally’s roster and each player’s percentage on penalty kicks taken in practice, which he started tallying two weeks ago.
Lally did not know that he would actually need to refer to the card during the title game. The decision proved to be wise as it helped Central capture a 1-0 win in a penalty kick shootout over Bedford at Bill Ball Stadium. The top-seeded Little Green went 4-for-4 during the best-of-five session, which ended 4-3 after Bedford’s final shot hit the post.
“Every single day for the last two weeks, kids were taking three and four shots a whack,” Lally said. “We practice shooting low and then Heather Jennato starts us off with a high hard one. Really though, I knew if we could make one stop then we could trust what these kids have done and how hard they’ve worked.”
Jennato, Paige LaBerge, Emily Greenwood and Sabrynna Pearson registered a conversion in penalty kicks. Pearson’s strike inside the upper-90 finished things off for the Little Green, who are champions for the first time since 2008. Playing 100 minutes of scoreless soccer didn’t leave Central with any doubt as the game went to penalty kicks either.
“I’ve known (Bedford goalie Lauren Johnson) since we started playing club together and she is a great goalie,” LaBerge said. “I think we did it so many times in practice that we got to a spot where we all knew we could do it. We didn’t have a reason not to feel good going into it.”
Frustration could’ve easily settled in for Central (19-1) as well. The Little Green, who lost their season opener to Bedford before winning out, had a small edge in possession over the third-seeded Bulldogs, but Central was dangerous almost every time it had the ball moving forward in Bedford’s end of the field.
A five-minute stretch in the second half showed as much when Central couldn’t grasp even one of three ideal scoring opportunities. Maddy Tremblay had a shot on an open goal stopped on the line by Bedford fullback Gabi Forte in the 63rd minute after LaBerge pulled Johnson off the line. Johnson then sniffed out a pair of one-on-one chances with Little Green striker Erin Flurey in the 64th and 68th minute.
“It was so physically demanding against that great defense, which they always have been,” LaBerge said. “Ever since my freshman year it was like ‘Ugh, Bedford’s defense!’ The hard work being put in made it most frustrating. We knew we could get through but just couldn’t capitalize.”
Johnson (nine saves) along with fullbacks Forte, sisters Brianna and Olivia Coco, and Rachel Sledjeski couldn’t have offered a better effort in Bedford coach Michelle Winning’s book.
“That defense has been solid like that all year,” Winning said. “You have to be proud. I’m not upset with any one player here. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them and more. You feel sorry for them, but there really wasn’t any more we could’ve done.”
Central’s defense was no slouch itself, but goalie Jessica Lewis certainly shined. Lewis made seven saves on the night, but none was better than a game-saving stop midway through the first sudden-death overtime. Mackenzie MacEachern curled a right-to-left cross to Olivia Toolin, who then fired a shot to the far side that Lewis impressively backtracked for after following the ball on the service.
“For me it was really all about keeping my composure,” Lewis said of her overall performance. “I knew the ball was going to be up most of the game. I knew I’d just have to do what I needed to on the breakthroughs.”
Lewis took over full-time goalie duties at the start of the playoffs as she split games with two other keepers during the regular season. The sophomore, with the help of the Central defense, posted shutouts in all four playoff wins.
“It got down to who was going to give us the best opportunity to win,” Lally said. “They all brought something different … Jessica brought athleticism. She plays baseball and has good hand-eye coordination, which kind of made my decision.”