By Paul Augeri
WEST HAVEN – In the end, confusion over the penalty-kick process gave way to jubilation. Mercy had, in fact, won the Southern Connecticut Conference championship.
After Mercy and Amity played through regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods tied at 2, and a first round of PKs ended with four scores for each side, junior Meghan Gallagher put away the Tigers’ first PK attempt in sudden death to win it.
Gallagher’s conversion was preceded first by Lauren Kohs’ successful PK that sent the shootout into sudden death, and then the save of the night by Mercy keeper Melina Ford, who went to the ground to bat away Macie Salado’s attempt to her right.
Which set the stage for Gallagher.
“Insane,” she said. “I just know (at that point) I have to make it for my team. I didn’t know it was sudden death. We just knew that everything was on the line with me going up there, no matter what the situation was – another five or sudden death. I had to finish for my team.”
Mercy coach Marcus Harley described the confusion over the rules as “weird and crazy” because, he said, the game officials explained the scenarios for penalty kicks prior to the start of the match. SCC rules state each side gets five attempts, and if the round ends tied (which it did), the match goes to sudden victory.
But after the sides were even 4-4 after five kicks, Harley said the officials believed another round of five should ensue. He said he didn’t understand the change in their thinking at that point. A stoppage for discussion lasted several minutes, with Amity’s Clara Cortright standing in position ready to shoot when the referees declared Mercy the winner.
“It was hard to celebrate at the end when we realized we should have won right then and didn’t, and the ref didn’t know,” said Harley.
Amity coach Owen Quigley, whose Spartans (15-2-2) beat and tied Mercy in their two regular-season meetings, would not take questions after the game.
“It was a big win,” Harley said. “Amity played hard. The deserved to win just as much as we deserved to. These three games kind of proved we were evenly matched. It just depended on who brought it. Both of us brought it tonight. They played well and hats off to them.”
The outcome capped a superlative effort by the Tigers (15-2-2) after they fell behind 2-0 in the first 20 minutes. Audrey Marin, the SCC Player of the Year for the fourth year in a row, and Iza Kurpios scored for the Spartans.
Kohs scored with 9:29 left in the half and freshman Laney Smith got the equalizer with a left-footed blast past Amity keeper Grace Lodewick with 6:58 gone in the second half.
Ford had 10 saves on the night and played a fantastic second half, making several big saves when the Tigers seized the momentum and forced overtime.
“I think it was a well-deserved win,” said Ford. “We spent the whole season preparing for that moment. The first two times we played Amity, we were in a funk and not at our best, so went into this game knowing Amity had no idea they were going against the real Mercy team, not the one they played before.
“Our goal for the game was to be Mercy’s first solo SCC champion.”
Her decisive stop on Amity’s sixth penalty kick came was made to her strong side.
“My right side is my stronger side, so I try to force the shooter towards that side,” she said. “Every goalie has their own tricks to get into the player’s head. For the most part it works. PKs are designed for the players to make, so I’m happy I made that save because it was the most important one.”
Harley said the Tigers were calm before proceeding to penalty kicks. Kate Donlan, Smith, Avery Kohs and cousin Lauren converted for the Tigers in the first round.
“When Amity got the lead (in regulation), the girls got nervous, but they were calm after that. We had our PK takers, they were willing to take it and they stepped up.”
Mercy takes a nine-match winning streak and 12-match unbeaten streak into the Class M tournament next week, but the Tigers on Thursday afforded themselves time to bask in their first SCC title since sharing the 2003 crown with Cheshire.
“The girls on the team did such an amazing job keeping the energy and intensity high the whole game,” said Ford, “and I’m so proud of them for never giving up. For me, someone who’s been starting on the varsity since my freshman year and seeing not just the girls in my grade but the girls younger than me really step up and give 110 percent the whole game really made me proud.”