Pictured: Cromwell keeper Lily Kenney had a busy second half against Watertown, protecting a one-goal lead with 11 saves. “I believe in my team and I know my team has my back,” she said. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

CROMWELL – Cromwell scored early Wednesday, relied on goalkeeper Lily Kenney to preserve the lead for almost all of the second half and finally put away Watertown with two late goals to advance to the quarterfinal round of the CIAC Class M tournament.

Panthers sophomore Katie Barber’s goal on the team’s first push down the field came just 7:11 into the match. Senior Erin Sokolowski scored in the 77th minute on the counterattack, with the assist going to Cameryn Hickey, and junior Liv Lusitani converted with 50 seconds left on the clock for a 3-0 victory over the 11th-seeded Indians.

In between, Watertown (12-6-0) could not get the ball past Kenney despite pressuring Cromwell’s side of the field for the first 34 minutes of the second half.

Sophomore Katie Barber scored 7:11 into Wednesday’s match to put Cromwell on the board. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

No. 6 Cromwell (12-1-6) will meet No. 3 Sacred Heart Academy on Friday in Hamden for the right to go on to the semifinals. The Sharks (15-1-3) defeated Rocky Hill 5-0 in the second round Wednesday.

Outside of a shot that struck the crossbar and deflected out of play 11 minutes into the second half, Kenney saved every attempt in her direction.

Kenney shook off a collision created by a Watertown player on a corner kick near the goal line to make two big saves in a three-minute stretch, denying the Indians their best chances at tying the game

“I know my defense has my back, so I’m not scared to go all out sometimes,” said Kenney. “I believe in my team and I know my team has my back.”

Erin Sokolowski gave Cromwell a 2-0 lead with 3:13 left in regulation to effectively ice the match, sending the Panthers to the Class M quarterfinals. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Watertown’s last good chance to tie the match occurred in the 73rd minute, but Besiana Dauti’s forward progress to Kenney’s right was stopped by Cromwell senior defender Amira Abdelghany. Dauti ended up shooting the ball directly at Kenney for an easy save.

Kenney had 15 saves, 11 in the second half.

“She’s a top goalie not only in our (Shoreline) conference, but a top player in our conference,” Cromwell coach Marcelo Caetano said. “She’s a natural athlete. God knows what she’d be like if she had actual goalkeeper training. That’s the scary part. She shows up time and time again.”

Because the Panthers had the wind at their backs in the first half, Caetano had hoped they would turn their opportunities into a comfortable lead. Instead, their one-goal advantage was at risk for most of the final 40 minutes.

“Those chances, I’m telling my kids that we needed them,” he said, “because the second half is going to put us in a situation where the wind’s at our back, we’re not going to be able to get those through balls and our defense is going to be on our heels. And sure enough, that’s what happened. You go up 2-0, 3-0, at the half and you’re in a much better spot.

“But our defense was really strong, and we were going backwards and they were coming at (us) 100 miles an hour.”

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