TRUMBULL — In a strategical chess match between two unbeaten sides, the St. Joseph girls soccer team maintained its perfect record by having the best piece in the middle of the board.
Midfielder Jessica Mazo, four days after giving a verbal commitment to play at UConn, used her playmaking abilities and field vision to set up a pair of spectacular goals and lead the Cadets to a 2-0 win over Westhill on Tuesday in their biggest week of the regular season.
In a game of contrasting styles, being able to play with a lead allowed St. Joseph to dictate tactics.
“I don’t want to play them again because I think offensively they’re the most talented team in the league,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said. “I think they’re better than us to be honest with you. I think we’re a little bit more complete team than they are but offensively I think they’re very, very good.”
The Cadets moved to 10-0-1 heading into Friday’s much anticipated meeting with Ridgefield, a rematch of last year’s conference final.
But the Cadets could not afford to look ahead before taking on the other team that entered the day unbeaten. And despite getting outplayed in the first half, the Vikings (8-1-2) reaffirmed their legitimacy as a title contender.
“I’m really happy with the way we played all the way through,” Westhill coach Dave Flower said. “We tried to do all the right things. We can pass the ball better than we did today and when we pass the ball we opened them. We got caught into a game of competition and running and kicking and that’s not really our game at all. They do that for a reason, because they’re good at it.”
A debatable non-call in the first half when a Westhill player may or may not have been taken down in the box loomed larger after the Cadets scored an absolutely gorgeous goal, orchestrated by Mazo, in the 36th minute. Mazo, a sophomore, chipped a ball off a throw-in that sailed to the far side, where Emma O’Neill was alone. O’Neill headed the ball into the net from 15 yards out.
Mazo admitted the play was part execution, part good fortune.
“I was just hoping someone would be in the box. I just crossed it and hoped Lindsey or anybody was there,” said Mazo, referring to Lindsey Savko, the Cadets’ top scorer. It was an amazing goal.”
Mazo’s second assist was more calculated and this time Savko was on the finishing end. Mazo sent a through ball and Savko sped behind the defense and scored on the breakaway.
“Lindsey was making a great run and I saw she was wide open and I played it to the seams and hoped for the best,” Mazo said.
Playing from ahead allowed the Cadets the chance to adopt a more defensive posture against a Westhill team that has explosive weapons, particularly Chelsea Domond.
“That was the key,” Nogueira said of playing from in front. “There was a 50-50 call that could have been a penalty. If they gave them the penalty who knows where the game goes. That’s soccer. After the first goal we played a little more defensively and then once we counterattacked with Jess for the second goal I felt pretty comfortable we were going to win the game. I thought the key to the game was defending very, very well. I thought it was Jess finding people in the right areas to finish. Obviously the first goal was a clinical finish. Jess has the ability to find people in the right situations. She played a beautiful ball to Lindsey.”
Both coaches said before the game the priority during the stretch run was to secure one of the top four seeds in the league playoffs and get a first-round home game.
“I don’t think we played poorly,” Flower said. “They deserved to win today.”
Mazo said the Cadets were ready to play Ridgefield for the first time since the loss in last year’s league championship.
“I don’t try to give a team too much attention because every game is important but it’s a game to look forward to,” Mazo said. “We’re definitely feeling a little sore from last year. We want to get that back.”