Mills moves on to Class M quarters with 3-1 win over Valley Regional.
FARMINGTON: As the pressure mounted on a ball that looked like it might be trouble, Lewis Mills senior defender Taylor LeBel calmly moved back about 10-yards, let the ball come to her while keeping a watchful eye on a pair of charging Valley Regional forwards.
With the calm cool of an upperclassmen, LeBel pushed an accurate pass out to her right wing, defusing the threat and starting the ball back to the offensive side of the pitch.
Such was the essence of the Spartans 3-1 win over a game Warriors team from the Shoreline Conference, a place that consistently throws quality teams into the State Tournament.
With the win, Mills moves on to the quarterfinals of Class M where they will take on the same team they faced in the same round a year ago in Bethel on Friday in Burlington.
A year ago, the Spartans got by Bethel in double overtime by a 3-2 score after being down 2-0.
On Wednesday night, it was the visitors who came out firing, dominating possession until the second ranked team in Class M found their footing.
Sophomore Chloe Waldren took one of the first long balls that found its way into the box and after a collision with the Valley goalie, put the ball in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with six minutes gone in the half.
Mills would add a pair of second half goals by Alessandra Santacroce off a terrific cross from Alyssaa Wrabel and the one that put it away from Wrabel after a Warriors tally had made it a one score game.
After the first 10-minutes of the opening half, the Spartans dominated play in the Valley Regional end.
“We are a powerful team,” Fowler said, “I’m sitting here a little irritated that we only had three. We got plenty of opportunities and in the tournament you’ve got to finish. I don’t think we finished as well as we usually do but we finished enough.”
The variety of weapons that head coach Dennis Fowler can throw at a team makes it hard to pin one down as the player to stop.
“We have a lot of player who can contribute,” Fowler said, “Whether it’s Waldren or Wrabel, we have very good offensive players, it’s what our system is based on.”
Wrabel, also just a sophomore, worked her way down the left side off a run that led to the cross and the Santacroce goal.
“Alyssa is about as tough as they come,” Fowler said, “She’s physical, she’s big and I mean, she’s never hurt. She puts her body into it. We play a very physical brand of soccer.”
On his defenses ability to stay calm under pressure, Fowler credited his upperclassmen for their hard work.
“That’s good experienced soccer right there,” Fowler said, “They just know where the ball should go and they don’t panic.”
Mills made a statement late in the regular season when they bounced back from a 4-0 loss to Berkshire League co-champ Housatonic in a 2-1 win and it seems to have set them off at just the right time.
“I definitely think it helped us (the Housy win), Wrabel said, “Because we’re on a mission to get to the final game and we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”
The beauty of Mills soccer always starts with the footwork, do the players find feet as the coaches teach.
Once they did on Wednesday, they controlled play but with just one ball finding the back side of the net, one could have feared letting a team they should beat, hang around a little too long.
That all changed on a classic run down the left side by Wrabel that led to the cross that found Santacroce who talked about the play.
“My coach really emphasizes the center-midfielders getting forward,” Santacroce said, “and I saw Alyssa on the outside and I was wide open on the top of the box. I was screaming for it and Alyssa played the perfect ball. I was contemplating playing it one touch or take a touch and fortunately, taking a touch paid off.”
A team on a mission that possesses the ability to continually put pressure on the opposition.
Sounds like Dennis Fowler and Lewis Mills girls’ soccer.