Sacred Heart Greenwich scored the first goal of Monday’s FAA Tournament quarterfinal-round game, but unfortunately for the Tigers, Rye Country Day School tallied last.
And because of that, fifth-seeded Rye Country Day School is moving on to the FAA Tournament semifinals.
Nothing was settled after 80 minutes of back-and-forth action, so 20 minutes of overtime followed and the capitalized on what’s been one of their strengths this season – a set piece.
Junior Sydney Merrill scored off a free kick with 2.3 seconds remaining in the first of two, 10-minute overtime sessions, lifting No. 5-seeded Rye Country Day School to a hard-fought 2-1 win over fourth-seeded Sacred Heart.
The Wildcats, who are 6-3-2 in FAA play, advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals, where they will face top-seeded St. Luke’s School (10-0-1 in the FAA. Sacred Heart, which posted a 2-1 victory against Rye Country Day School on Sept. 22 for its first win of its 2021 season, finished the season with a 6-3-2 mark in the FAA and an 8-7-4 record overall.
“I thought the girls played really well, especially in the second half,” Sacred Heart coach Stuart Smith said. “We were nervous in the first half, we panicked a lot, but in the second half, we calmed down and played some really good soccer and created a lot of opportunities. We had two or three good chances to score, but didn’t take them.”
On Stevens’ game-winning goal, she lofted a high free kick from near the left sideline that Sacred Heart junior goalie Daphne Hartch got her hands on, but the ball was tapped into the goal and the Wildcats, who trailed 1-0 in the second half, took a 2-1 lead.
“Sacred Heart is a great team, so we had to play to our strength, which is set pieces,” said Rye Country Day coach Jack Booth, who previously served as an assistant coach at Greenwich Academy. “We scored two goals from set pieces, but it was a collective team effort. The captains, our seniors pulled the team together.”
The Wildcats applied pressure early in the first 10-minute overtime session, then the Tigers possessed the ball on Rye Country Day’s end during the second 10-minute overtime, behind junior forward Karina Sethi and freshman forward Eva Wilkerson. But Sacred Heart couldn’t tally the equalizer.
“The 10 minutes run down so fast in overtime and once you get a goal down, it’s hard to come back but the girls gave their all, they left it all out on the field,” Smith said. “We pushed forward, we played well, we just couldn’t find that quality we needed around their goal to get the lead.”
Sacred Heart took a 1-0 lead 19:10 into the first half, behind the senior captain combination of Charlotte Marvin and Lauren Griuriceo. The play began with a Griuriceo free kick following a RCDS foul and Marvin finished the play with a goal, giving host Sacred Heart a 1-0 advantage.
However, the Tigers didn’t add on to their lead and the Wildcats tallied the equalizer in the second half.
“We should have gone up 2 or 3-nil in the second half, but we didn’t take that chance,” Smith said. “They capitalized on a mistake and took it to 1-1.”
Sophomore Ellie Stevens knotted the score at 1-1 for Rye Country Day, as she rose up for a header off a corner kick and found the back of the net for a goal in the second half.
“We were one goal behind and the team showed great fight and effort,” Booth said. I’m really proud of our team and we earned the opportunity to go again Wednesday.”
Junior Zara Black made three saves in goal for the Tigers in the first half, while Hartch made several saves during the second half and overtime.
The matchup marked the final game for Marvin, Griuriceo and senior Chelsea Hyland, all of whom served as captains for Sacred Heart.
“Not being able to go off to the next game with a win is hard,” said Marvin, who turned in strong play throughout the season. “Being part of this team probably gave me the best memories of my Sacred Heart experience. I was so honored when I was chosen as one of the captains – we have been on the team for four years. Being leaders has been great, especially with such a great group of girls.”
Indeed, the Tigers steadily gained momentum with some significant victories during the season.
“They’ve progressed so much over the past three months or four months,” Marvin said of her teammates. “They have shown so much grit and resilience. This game shows that. Today, it was a matter of putting the ball in the back of the net and we weren’t able to do that. It’s been the best season of my life. I couldn’t imagine playing with a better group of girls.”
Hyland also fondly reflected on the Tigers’ 2021 season.
“Our team has come so far and from the beginning of the season, we have worked incredibly hard,” Hyland said. “We have a lot of young players and they brought a new hunger to the field and I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I’ve been on the team four years and every year is more amazing than the past.”
Marvin, Hyland, Griuriceo, Justine Hounsell, Lydia Fullerton, Franny O’Brien, Kaitlin Langer, Grace Gasvoda and Abigail Barnett are Sacred Heart’s seniors.
“We say good-bye to a lot of seniors today, who have been with the program for a long time and have done so much for the program,” Smith said. “And we really wanted to get the win for them and that’s the most disappointing thing – that we couldn’t take it a step further for them and possibly make it to the final.”
“We scored 40 goals during the season and a lot of really good goals,” Smith continued. “This year we had scoring by committee, we had 14 different goal-scorers this season. Each game we got a little bit better and we’ve had some good results.”