Pictured: Kate Donlan (14) is about to get a hug from Mercy teammate Megan Gallagher after tying Tuesday’s match at 1 in the first half. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – As Mercy coach Marcus Harley described it, the Tigers were plagued by a case of stage fright Tuesday against fellow Southern Connecticut Conference power Amity.

“We were a whole lot of nervous,” he said. “We weren’t playing like we were supposed to be playing. Amity was aggressive, more physical than us and they were winning the ball. They pushed us around.”

That said, Harley felt good about his squad being in a 1-1 game at halftime. Sophomore Kate Donlan got the Tigers on the board with a goal with 10:13 remaining in the half.

But Amity’s seasoned attack won out in the end. Junior Iza Kurpios separated herself from the Tigers’ defense and put away a pass from future Ivy Leaguer Audrey Marin to give the Spartans a 2-1 victory at Xavier’s Larry McHugh Field.

“It was an even game that could have gone either way,” Amity coach Owen Quigley said. “They were better than us in the first half, and I thought we probably were better than them in the second half. These are two good teams that will be there at the end in the SCC, no question about it.”

Marin, a three-time All-SCC standout who is committed to play at Dartmouth, is a threat to any defense and proved it in the 16th minute of the match when she broke away on the right side and deposited a shot from about 15 yards inside the far post and out of the reach of Tigers keeper Melina Ford.

“We knew any breakaway by her is a possible goal and she got one,” Harley said. “We practiced for her for two days in a row.”

Iza Kurpios (18) thanks Audrey Marin for the assist. Kurpios’ second-half goal gave Amity a 2-1 win over Mercy. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

But once Marin gave Amity the lead, Harley said he thought it allowed the Tigers’ nerves to settle. Their defense didn’t allow another good opportunity in the half.

Meanwhile, Donlan, who led the team in scoring last season, equalized things when she settled a pass directly in front of the goal in the 31st minute and powered the shot past Grace Lodewick from about 12 yards. It was Mercy’s first goal of the season – the Tigers won their opener over Lauralton Hall on an own goal.

At the break, Harley said he could sense his players’ confidence after 40 minutes of play.

“They were in it,” he said.

Ava Romeo of Mercy (13) and Amity’s Martyna Krzysztopik battle for possession in the second half of Tuesday’s match in Middletown. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

As it turned out, the Tigers could not create another good opportunity over the final 40, either before or after Amity took the lead on Marin’s touch-and-go pass from the left sideline to Kurpios in the middle.

“It was a great move,” Quigley said. “We got ‘em on the break. When we get a head of steam up, you’re not stopping us.”

Marin’s best scoring chance was her breakaway. Mercy junior Lauren Kohs was tasked with marking her, and Harley said she did an “awesome” job on the defensive end.

“You’re not going to stop (Marin) every single time,” he said.

Quigley thought the Tigers pushed his team, which defeated Lauralton 2-0 in its first match of the year.

“These were two pretty evenly matched teams here,” he said. “I’m glad we had this game now, and it’s probably a good barometer for (Harley), too. They are a very well-coached team, very respectful, they play the game the right way.

“I wish I could play (Mercy) every day. They play the game the way it should be played. This was excellent. When we get together, it’s always a goal here, a goal there. No one whips the other. If you came to watch this game today, you were entertained, it was end to end, and I thought the officiating was excellent. They could have called 100 fouls and they didn’t. They let the girls play.”

Amity outshot Mercy 12-11. Ford had six saves for the Tigers and Lodewick had 10 for the Spartans.

The teams meet up again on Oct. 7 at William Johnson Stadium in Woodbridge.

Mercy returns to Xavier for another home game on Friday against West Haven (3:45pm).

“We just have to maintain positivity and try to build the girls up for the next game,” Harley said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board, do the basic stuff, try to control the ball, possess the ball, stuff like that. And just build their confidence. They need to experience this (type of match). As any team starting the season, you want to win every game, so the pressure to go 16-0 is off our back. We don’t have to worry about that anymore. Hopefully that’s going to make their life a little easier, a little less stressful.”

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