By Joe Arruda
With five seconds remaining on the clock in the second overtime period, Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham found themselves in prime position as they set up for a corner kick at Brock-Affleck field. Nathalia Gallo lined up to take it on the left side of the field. Coming off of her right foot, the ball soared into the packed box.
A deflection from her teammate altered the path of the ball towards Springfield goalkeeper Caitlin Normoyle, who then deflected it away from the goal. The twice-deflected ball found the foot of Madeline Finnegan who sent a sharp ball in the direction of the left post, far out of Normoyle’s reach.
But, Springfield’s Sydney Wine remained in her defensive position from the corner kick, and made an impressive reactionary defensive save on what would have been the game winning goal for the Devils.
“That’s why she’s there,” head coach John Gibson joked after the game.
The defensive save ended up providing the source of energy that Springfield needed. With temperatures in the low 30s, it was a stiff game, from the players on the field to the players on the bench, but their play was not hindered.
By the time the second overtime period came around, Springfield was aggressive. They managed to take five shots, four of them on goal, while holding the Devils to none.
It was a long time coming for Kellie Smith, who was able to get six shots off in both overtime periods.
With just over a minute remaining in the second overtime period, the thought of penalty kicks seemed more and more like a reality. Smith was frustrated though. Her teammates were feeding her wonderful set up passes, but she couldn’t seem to get her shots past Ashley Paulino, the keeper for Fairleigh Dickinson.
This time though, was different.
She took it herself, worked past three Devils defenders, and managed to send a ball about waist-high to the right side of the net. Finally, she had gotten it in. It was the second game winning shot in the past two weeks for Smith after she put away the game winner in penalty kicks which sent the Pride to the NEWMAC Championship Semifinal on Nov. 5.
“It took many tries to do it, but they kept on giving me good balls and I knew I had to finish. It was scary at first but then they just kept on doing it and we got it,” Smith said.
The Pride dominated possession which was reflected in the amount of shots they were able to get off. They finished with 27 shots, 14 of them on goal, while holding the Devils to just 17 shots, with nine on goal.
“I thought we played really well, moved the ball, which is what we asked the players to do, move the ball quickly; to play at a higher pace than we thought that they could deal with and to put the chances away,” Gibson said. “We had only scored three goals in the last four games, which is not like us, so we’re happy that we scored three, but we should have had a few more, and sooner. I thought it was a really good game; it was played in a good spirit, the ball was pinging around, they were more direct than us, they pressured us, they had good players. It was a good advert for division III women’s soccer.”
With one of their go-to scorers sidelined, the opportunities came down to the rest of the offense. Sara Swetland was that reliable force in the attacking third, as she was able to finish both of the Pride goals in regulation. The first came within the first three minutes of the game as a result of a perfectly executed give-and-go involving Swetland and Smith.
“It’s a team sport, one player can’t carry a team. We have strong players, I think a lot of people performed really well today, and that’s what it takes. I was very pleased, I thought we played well yesterday, and I thought we played really well today. The way we kept the ball was excellent, and that’s when we were at our best. The chances we made in the final third were great, and it took everyone working together to do it,” Gibson said.
The chances never seemed like they would stop coming for the Pride, but too often the result was either an offsides whistle, or a shot directly into the arms of Paulino. The Pride struggled dealing with the high defensive line that Fairleigh Dickinson employs. Nine offsides calls hindered the Springfield attack on many occasions, turning what looked like was going to be a fantastic chance on goal, into a free kick for the opposition.
“When the other team plays with a high defensive line, it’s inviting for people to run in behind, and I guess the combination of sometimes the run was too soon, they just went way too early, sometimes they tried to time it and the pass was a bit late. The benefit of looking at video, we might think we weren’t offsides, there were a couple that were incredibly tight, but the assistant referee, we’ve had him before, he makes good decisions normally, and he’s in a better position to see than we are,” Gibson said.
“So it’s frustrating because we need to play the ball quicker, and we need to check our runs, may need to curve it or hold it completely to stay on side and then go forward, and the official needs to make the right calls as well. I think when we look at it we will probably see that it was us making the mistakes so we’ll talk about it, but teams don’t normally hold that high of a line.”
Despite the struggles that came with good chances, and the 17 fouls that were called on Springfield, their three goals were enough to advance them into the semifinals of the ECAC Tournament.
The Pride will travel to Westminster, Maryland for the semifinal matchup on Saturday, Nov. 23, against Muhlenberg College at 2:00 p.m..
Photo courtesy of Springfield College Athletics