East Lyme, NFA as evenly matched in girls' soccer as always

East Lyme — Norwich Free Academy has had an easier time scoring goals, seven on one occasion this season, while East Lyme, which starts three freshmen, is still in the formative stage on offense.

On Thursday, the last two Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I girls' soccer champions — East Lyme in 2016 and NFA in 2017 — were as evenly matched as ever after 100 minutes, however, with the teams playing to a 1-1 tie in double overtime.

East Lyme scored with 3 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in regulation, a goal by Pheobe Provencher assisted by Alivia Catanzaro, to tie things. It was the second straight game the division rivals have played past curfew, with NFA edging the Vikings in last year's ECC quarterfinals in a game decided by penalty kicks. The teams split a pair of one-goal regular-season games a year ago.

"We knew that going in that we were going to be evenly matched," NFA coach Kyle Baron said. "Playing teams tough is what we're striving for. I think we were just exhausted; we're drained after this game. We've had more days off (due to weather) than we've had games. It doesn't help."

"They're starting to understand how to play together," East Lyme coach Rachel Redding said of her team. "They're working the chemistry to make it work. We haven't figured out the puzzle yet."

NFA is 1-1-1 overall, 0-0-1 in Division I, while East Lyme went to 1-3-1, 0-1-1. East Lyme's division loss came to Woodstock Academy, a newcomer to the Division I mix following the ECC's realignment. NFA has yet to play Woodstock because of a weather postponement.

Still, there are a lot of things to prove, division-wise.

NFA struck first Thursday on a goal by Cassidy White on an assist from Abigail Tucker 15:26 into the second half, with White breaking what was until then a scoreless tie. But East Lyme's Provencher came through in a dramatic final few moments, taking a through ball from Catanzaro.

"It was a lot of heart and hustle that put the ball in the back of the net," Redding said. "It was a very important goal. Phoebe's come through for us a lot scoring goals ... determination."

The final three minutes featured a few palpitations on both sides, as NFA fired off a pair of corner kicks, one of which resulted in a save by Vikings keeper Avery Owen off the very tips of her fingertips.

Then, as time was about to expire, NFA was awarded a free kick practically from the goal line, as it was ruled that East Lyme passed the ball back to Owen, who then picked it up. Redding argued vehemently that it wasn't a pass-back, while meanwhile sending her entire team to the goal mouth to defend on the play. The Vikings cleared the dangerous attempt.

East Lyme started the first 10-minute overtime with three straight corner kicks, seemingly electrified by the Provencher goal. Owen made her last save with 17 seconds remaining in the second overtime, with each team having taken 13 shots overall.

Both teams have a lot of work remaining.

For starters, NFA has four games next week, meeting division foes Fitch on Monday and Woodstock on Tuesday, then Waterford Thursday and Bacon Academy on Saturday. There was nowhere else to put the makeup game with Woodstock, Baron said.

"We have three games, three games, three games the rest of the way. A four-game week was something I had to do," said Baron, whose team is led thus far by sophomore Kayla Park with five goals. "... I'm so proud of these kids."

East Lyme gets some time away from Division I, but instead plays state power Notre Dame of Fairfield, currently unbeaten, on the road Saturday.

"We have a lot of good talent," Provencher said. "It's coming together. It's starting to come through. Everyone was working extremely hard (against NFA). We've just got to figure everything out."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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