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Old Lyme - An early goal sent a shock wave through the Old Lyme High School girls' soccer team on Wednesday.
Just over six minutes into the Class S state quarterfinal, St. Bernard junior Mackenzie Nagy scored the game's opening goal.
It took awhile for the stunned Wildcats to respond.
"It was kind of a shocker," Old Lyme coach Paul Gleason said.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats regrouped, gradually seized control, and answered with four straight goals, including three in the final 13 minutes, for a 4-1 victory. They earned a spot in the state semifinals on Friday against top-seeded Immaculate of Danbury (18-1-2), the three-time defending Class S champion, at West Haven High School (7 p.m.)
"We really just picked up our intensity and we just really wanted it," Old Lyme junior Hannah Behringer said. "(The goal) was kind of a wakeup call. We didn't come out as well as we expected, but we came back."
Behringer scored two goals, including the go-ahead strike with 12:56 remaining, and added an assist. Junior Lexi Sibley also scored twice. The Wildcats held a 22-5 edge in shots and freshman goalie Tori Sims made three saves.
A talented center midfielder, Behringer alertly collected a loose ball, made a nifty move near the top of the 18-yard box and fired a left-footed shot that hit off the bottom of the cross bar and landed in the goal.
"I was open, so why not take the shot?" Behringer said of her great individual effort. "I was hoping."
The goal seemed to deflate a stubborn St. Bernard defense that had frustrated Old Lyme up to that point, only allowing Sibley's beautifully struck goal off a Sloane Sweitzer cross that tied the game at 1-1 with about 17 minutes left in the first half.
"Athletically, they were just a step above us," St. Bernard coach Chris Ghiglia said. "You could just see that they kind of wore us down in the second half. And they were very dangerous on set pieces."
Behringer's strong right foot delivered several dangerous balls into the box. Her long, high free kick set up Sibley who finished off a nice run deep into the box by scoring off a header for a 3-1 edge with 8:35 left. It was Sibley's 20th goal of the season.
On the fourth goal, Behringer took the direct route, drilling in a low hard free kick from about 30 yards out for a 4-1 lead at the 1:12 mark.
The victory was even sweeter for the Old Lyme upperclassmen. The Wildcats failed to qualify for the state tournament last year, going 4-11 overall.
"It means a lot to us," Behringer said. "Last year we had a rough season. Just turning it around this year, it feel great."
It's been an emotional postseason run for Gleason, who took over this season after coaching the middle school program for 17 years.
"It's pretty cool to see these kids develop as you work with them in their older years," Gleason said. "The kids bought into the program. It's a thrill for me. It gets me kind of emotional."
Gleason is looking forward to Saturday's semifinals. Immaculate needed double overtime to beat ninth-seeded Old Saybrook 1-0 on Wednesday.
The two teams last met in the 2010 state tournament, with Immaculate posting a 5-4 overtime win in the second round. Old Lyme and Immaculate tied for the 2009 state title.
"We have to face Immaculate, our old nemesis," Gleason said. We'll see how we do against them. We'll play just as hard and whoever wins, wins."
Fifth-seeded St. Bernard, the Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division champion, ended its season with an 11-4-4 record.