WATERBURY-The Litchfield Cowgirls knew it was going to be a severe test going against powerful Immaculate Saturday afternoon in the Class S state girls soccer tournament championship game.
After all, Immaculate had won eight state titles prior to Saturday’s contest, while Litchfield didn’t even have a girls soccer program until 1996 and was making its first finals appearance in its history. In fact, the Cowgirls had never been past the quarterfinals of the state tournament before this year.
And as it turned out, Immaculate’s poised, senior-led defense and a pair of talented strikers by the names of Natalia Diaz and Lindsay Jossick proved too much for the game but overmatched Cowgirls, as the seventh-seeds dropped a 3-0 decision to the fifth-seeded Mustangs from Danbury.
While tears flowed freely on the Litchfield sideline after the contest, played in balmy 60-degree temperatures before about 1,000 fans crammed into the stands Ray Snyder, Jr. Field at Municipal Stadium, there was no shame in the Cowgirls’ effort.
“We knew what we were up against,” said Litchfield mentor Brian Mongeau, whose club finished 12-5-2. “Immaculate has been here lots of times before and it was our first time in a state championship game. The girls played their hearts out and the seniors had a great run that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
The Cowgirls didn’t look like a team that would eventually reach the state tournament finals during a mid-season swoon when they posted a 1-3-1 record during a five-game stretch. But Litchfield finished the regular season strong, going 3-0-1, and then running off three straight victories in the state tournament.
“Halfway through the season we weren’t playing as a unit,” said Mongeau. “The storm (that cancelled school and games for a week) seemed to do something for us and we worked some things out. We came out of that break on fire.”
Litchfield posted victories over Berkshire League rival Shepaug, East Hampton and Old Saybrook to reach the finals, while Immaculate blew three teams away by a combined score of 10-2 to reach the championship tilt.
It was just too much Diaz and Jossick Saturday as the two wreaked havoc all afternoon in the Cowgirls’ zone. The Mustangs kept almost constant pressure on Litchfield netminder, junior Kelly Lewis, and her defensive mates, with Lewis keeping the ball out of the goal by making several spectacular saves during the first 35 minutes of the contest.
But Immaculate (14-3-2 ) finally got the only goal it would when Diaz took control of the ball on the right side of the Litchfield defense and fired a shot past Lewis with 4:25 remaining in the half.
The real cruncher came 10 minutes into the second half when Jossick rammed a shot past Lewis from in close to make it 2-0 and put the Cowgirls in too big a hole to climb out of.
“When it was 1-0 it was okay,” said Mongeau, “because anything can happen at that point. But the second goal really hurt us.”
Immaculate got another insurance goal with 17 minutes remaining when Rossick again came racing in to pick up a crossing pass that Lewis couldn’t hold on to and slipped the ball past the Cowgirl netminder.
Litchfield really had only one close scoring opportunity, that coming when senior Brittany Shakley put a strong foot on a direct kick from about 25 yards out that hit the top of the Immaculate crossbar and deflected over with 6:31 left on the clock.
Immaculate wound up outshooting Litchfield, 10-5.
“We had our ups and downs this season,” said Litchfield senior Staci Shuhi, “but we always stuck together like a family. The town really got behind us and more than half the fans here today were from Litchfield.”
The game was the first of a Litchfield soccer doubleheader that saw the school’s boys team take on Somers in another Class S championship game at Municipal Stadium. Both Litchfield teams were feted at a breakfast at the town’s firehouse prior to their leaving for Waterbury.
For Shuhi, the game had familial significance.
“My mother wanted to play soccer when she was in high school but couldn’t because there was no girls team. We talked about that and I think it’s so neat that I was able to play in a state championship game.”
The Cowgirls may have walked off the field on the wrong side of the won-loss ledger, but it remained a season full of fun, disappointments, soul-searching, big goals, camaraderie and history. A season that won’t be forgotten by the team and the town anytime soon.