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Just went it seemed the conference playoff semifinals were headed into overtime, 73 minutes into a stalemate, the Nighthawks finally struck.
Carly Swierbut took a through-ball from Keeley Kortze, got behind the defense, and broke a scoreless tie with seven minutes remaining to lift second-seeded Newtown High School to a 1-0 win over No. 6 Weston in the South-West Conference girls’ soccer tournament semifinals, at Blue & Gold Stadium, on Halloween afternoon.
“I’m so happy we could win it for the seniors,” said Swierbut, a junior, who has been a key component of Newtown’s offense this fall.
The girls’ booters advance to take on top-seeded Immaculate of Danbury in the Thursday, November 2, championship game. It will take place at New Milford High, beginning at 7 pm.
“I’m so happy. I’m so excited,” senior captain Grace Corcoran said.
Defenders/midfielders Hannah Daly, Karsen Pirone, Cassidy Kortze, and Keeley Kortze got to every loose ball and, per Coach Marc Kenney’s orders, got the ball forward to push back every Weston attempt to tie the game. Weston couldn’t get the ball much past midfield after the go-ahead tally.
“This is how it’s supposed to be. Immaculate’s the No. 1 seed and were the No. 2 seed,” said Kenney, whose team lost 2-0 at Immaculate during the regular season. “It’s an SWC game; seedings don’t matter at this point.”
Against Weston, the Nighthawks amassed a dozen corner kicks, but couldn’t cash in on the set plays led by Sarah Houle’s deliveries into the 18-yard box.
Newtown had tied Weston during the regular season, and it appeared that the rematch was headed for overtime until Swierbut’s net-finder.
“It feels good. Weston’s a good team, they play so hard. They cause a lot of problems for us,” said Kenney, adding that Weston’s speed was tough to handle.
The Hawks, in the October 28 quarterfinals, avenged last year’s SWC tournament exit at the hands of Joel Barlow of Redding with a 2-0 triumph over the Falcons, also at Blue & Gold.
Emma Curtis assisted Sydney Howard for the first goal, and Curtis was set up for the second net-finder by Swierbut.
In the quarterfinal-round win, the second-seeded Nighthawks scored only 2:34 into the game, and padded the lead almost the same amount of time out of the halftime break, as Curtis found the net at 2:35 into the second half. No. 7 Barlow will have to wait for the start of state tournament play to return to game action.
The Hawks have focused on scoring early in games to avoid increasing the likelihood of the daunting task of playing from behind.
“They’ve certainly embraced it. It’s much easier to play a game when you’re winning,” Kenney said.
Curtis missed practice during the week, while nursing an injured back, and played through pain, effectively at that, in the win over Barlow.
“It was hard, but it motivated me more,” Curtis said of being out there despite not feeling 100 percent. “I knew I had to work ten times harder.”
“The kid knows how to play. She’s a winner,” Kenney added.
And, thanks in large part to the efforts of Curtis, the Nighthawks were winners in the playoff opener.
They have been much of the time this fall, with the team losing only twice during the regular slate, and just once in conference play (the setback to Immaculate). Newtown overcame a Barlow team it lost to in last year’s playoffs, and a Weston squad it previously tied, and went into the championship tilt looking to avenge its lone in-conference defeat of the season, against an Immaculate lineup that went unbeaten in SWC play and lost only to Norwich Free Academy.
This has been an impressive season for the Nighthawks given they began with a much different looking starting lineup following the graduation of many of its starters a year ago. Sophomores and juniors have stepped up, and freshmen have stepped in to play key roles.
“My kids have matured so much. They fight, they play hard. This is the result of that,” Kenney said of his team advancing.
Win or lose, champion or runner-up, the Hawks will continue their season in the playoffs.
“The great thing is we still get to play in a state tournament game Monday,” Kenney noted.
The state seedings and schedule are to be announced at casciac.org on Friday, November 3.