Pictured: Coginchaug’s Marina Chanthinith has control of the ball in the midfield as Portland’s Avery Quesnel pursues in the second half of Tuesday’s match in Durham. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

DURHAM – After Coginchaug lost three of four following a 5-0-1 start to the season, it was time for a talk. Coach Megan Kavanaugh pulled the core of the team together to work through what had gone wrong and what the Blue Devils could do to fix things.

No one was happy after Coginchaug traveled all the way to Suffield on Saturday morning and took a 6-2 thumping, three days after being shut out by Morgan. This is a team with championship aspirations.

“(Suffield) scored on us very early, and we haven’t been able to handle that mentally where we’ve been able to work to come back together as a group,” Kavanaugh said. “I think we needed to step away, and we got to talking about what’s working and what’s not, and we made some adjustments.

“We have a common goal, we just needed to get everyone on the same page in terms of accomplishing that goal,” Kavanaugh said. “We have a lot of talented players and we needed to find the right way to get them to connect and come together.”

The Blue Devils were feeling better about themselves Tuesday after knocking off Portland 3-1, the first defeat of the season for the Highlanders (6-1-2, ranked 8th in this week’s Class M/S coaches poll).

Highlanders keeper Hannah Brunk left the net to thwart a Coginchaug possession in the second half. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Portland’s Ava Maselek scored early in the second half to tie the match. Coginchaug senior Sam Paul connected for a 2-1 lead with 7:08 remaining and Katie Farr iced it with the second of her two goals with 1:16 left.

“We know what we’re capable of and we know we haven’t been showing that in the past week or two,” said Paul, a co-captain. “This was a perfect opportunity to play against a really good team and do what we do best, which is playing to feet, playing simple, moving off the ball and getting a goal at the end of it.”

Coginchaug (7-1-3) took a 1-0 lead into halftime on Farr’s first score.

Portland coach Joe Santavenere thought his squad was flat in the first half, but the Highlanders picked up the pace in the second and tied it in the 56th minute when Maselek crossed the ball inside the left post, beating Blue Devils keeper Carly Benbow.

Coginchaug had a couple of good runs on goal in the final 20 minutes and finally hit paydirt when Paul – whose talents take her anywhere from the back line to the front of the net — followed her initial shot, which hit the left post, and put the second chance out of Portland keeper Hannah Brunk’s reach.

“I think we knew they were going to be really good and come out strong,” senior co-captain Alyssa Woodward said, “but we showed that we can stay composed and play our game, not theirs.”

Said Farr: “After the goal (by Maselek) we came back even stronger. We were playing to feet and we finished our chances. That’s how we got the win today.”

Without any let-up in the final minutes, Farr converted as the Blue Devils remained among the top five teams in the Shoreline standings.

“The second half was much better for us possession-wise, defensively and winning the ball,” said Santavenere. “Unfortunately, the last few minutes got away from us and we didn’t close the game out like I would have hoped. I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond with another important game against Cromwell (Thursday).”

The Shoreline is deep with good teams this fall. Morgan (7-0-4), Old Lyme (6-0-4) and Cromwell (5-0-5) are unbeaten, while Portland, Coginchaug, Old Saybrook (5-3-2) and defending champion Haddam-Killingworth (5-4-1) figure to be in the conference tournament at the end of October.

“Today we definitely played as a team, from No. 1 to 26 and our managers. Everyone was engaged,” said Kavanaugh. “When you play a good team like Portland you have to play your ‘A’ a game. Two years ago we went to their field and got crushed because we didn’t come ready to play. If we have each other’s back, we can compete on any given day. Today was a good example of, if we play together, we’re much more difficult to beat than playing 11 games of one on one.”

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