Strong second half propels Mills girls in Class M tournament
BURLINGTON - The way the Lewis Mills girls soccer team blitzed the Berkshire League this season it was easy to forget that this is a really young team with a lot of new players.
The Spartans gave everyone a reminder of that inexperience and youth for about 25 minutes Thursday night before their talent and determination won out.
Freshman Alyssa Wrabel and junior Ailene Berry each scored a goal in the second half to led the top-seeded Spartans to a 2-0 victory over No. 16 Sheehan in a Class M state tournament second round matchup on a rain-soaked night at Nassahegan Field.
The win moves Lewis Mills into the quarterfinals where it will face No. 24 Bethel (8-6-4) on Saturday back at Nassahegan.
The Spartans (17-0) weren't able to generate many solid chances for most of the first half. They did not allow many either and finally started to get their footing late in the half. The game was tied 0-0 at the break, but things had started to go Mills' way.
"The last 10 minutes of the first half we settled down, connected some passes and got a few corners," Lewis Mills coach Dennis Fowler said. "At halftime we said 'look we just need to do what you did for the last 10 minutes. Settle down and play the game we normally play' and we did that.
Mills came out and looked more aggressive and confident, dominating possession and the run of play and really limiting any sustained offense from Sheehan.
"At the start of the second half, even though we didn't pop one in, we had a lot of emotional momentum," Fowler said. "I don't care what sport it is, when you have that emotional momentum it's going to come sooner or later."
For Mills that breakthrough came just after the midway mark of the second half. Berry collected a ball near the top of the box and got off a hard shot that Sheehan backup goalie Kaitlin Lagase was able to block away but she wasn't able to control the rebound. In came a streaking Wrabel to pounce on the rebound and put it home to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead with 18:29 to play.
"I just try and do something productive when I step on the field," Wrabel said. "I saw the ball going in and I knew there might be a rebound and I just went in for it."
Berry iced the game with a nice run from near midfield into the box where she unleashed a low left-footed blast that beat Sheehan goalie Joelle MarkAnthony, to make it 2-0 with 1:56 left on the clock.
"We came out and stepped it up in the second half," Berry said. "In the second half we moved the ball better and got off more shots."
The improved play from the Spartans was part getting used to the conditions and part playing in a tournament setting for the first time for a majority of the team. They learned on the job pretty well and now are a home game away from a spot in the semifinals.
"Only two of the girls have any kind of tournament experience. We are an inexperienced varsity team and you saw that early in the game when we did exactly what they wanted us to do," Fowler said. "This is the first big moment for a lot of these girls. You come out under the bright lights and its a different team you are playing, it takes some getting used to."
Lewis Mills outshot Sheehan 16-4 and had a 6-3 advantage in corners. Spartans goalie Melanie Senk had a pair of saves while Joelle MarkAnthony and Lagase combined for seven saves or the Titans.
"They are a very skilled team," Sheehan coach Rob Huelsman said. "We were prepared and played hard but Lewis Mills just played better than we did in the second half."