Johnson's hat trick sends Old Lyme girls back to Class S soccer final

West Haven — Mya Johnson injured her left ankle on Oct. 15, her own Senior Day at Old Lyme High School.

She had a moment, she said, about two seconds into the Class S state girls' soccer tournament semifinal game Monday night at West Haven High School, where she felt a momentary stinger in her left ankle — on which she still wore a brace, nearly a month later — and couldn't really run.

And then Johnson, the senior captain, went out and ran No. 14 Old Lyme into its fourth straight state championship game, delivering all three goals in the Wildcats' 3-1 victory over No. 7 East Hampton.

Old Lyme, the three-time defending champion, will play No. 4 Immaculate on Saturday at a site and time to be announced, with Immaculate blanking No. 17 Coginchaug 3-0 earlier in the day Monday.

“I don't know if I can ever replace her talent level,” Old Lyme coach Paul Gleason said of Johnson, an All-New England pick a year ago and the Wildcats' all-time leading scorer with 99 goals.

“Her determination. Her perspicacity. You don't see often. It's her magnetic … like (the other players) are all hooked into her. Like she's the plug.”

East Hampton, a fellow member of the Shoreline Conference which tied Old Lyme 1-1 during the regular season, tied Monday's game at one once again with 15 minutes, 2 seconds remaining despite Old Lyme having had the better part of play.

Old Lyme (12-5-4) outshot East Hampton 19-4, with Bellringers goalie Ally Williams forced to make 16 saves. A blast by East Hampton's Kayla Field evened things, however.

Then Johnson, who headed the ball past Williams for Old Lyme's goal in the first half, assisted by Lydia Tinnerello, got even more perspicacious — or shrewd.

With 10:51 remaining, Dani McCarthy played a ball forward from the midfield that Johnson sprinted to catch up to, beating a defender and crushing one for the eventual game-winner.

Her insurance goal came less than two and a half minutes later. She left-footed it, with her sore ankle, into the upper left corner with 8:37 to play.

“The ball was going toward the line,” Johnson, who will play at Connecticut College beginning next season, said of the last one. “I chopped it back.”

Johnson said East Hampton tying the game gave Old Lyme a sense of determination, something the Wildcats have had throughout the state tournament, beating No. 3 Cromwell (2-1) and No. 6 Portland (2-0) back-to-back on Thursday and Friday last week before upending a third straight higher-ranked opponent Monday. Sam Gray made three saves in goal for Old Lyme.

“I want that fourth (championship) ring,” Johnson said. “I know everyone else is eager to get there. It means a lot. We've been the underdog this whole season. We are here to play, win or lose. It's just awesome to be there. All our seniors deserve it. We want to keep it going.

“A big thing for me was I didn't want to go to penalty kicks. That's stressful. We all play for that last minute. We get that.”

Old Lyme, which has seven seniors, tied Notre Dame of Fairfield for the 2015 title (2-2), before winning the first two outright championships in program history the next two seasons. The Wildcats edged Old Saybrook 1-0 in 2016 and last year topped Holy Cross 2-1 in double overtime on a header by Johnson off a corner kick from McCarthy.

This year, Old Lyme was 8-4-4 in a regular season marred by injuries and lost to Cromwell in the first round of the Shoreline tournament.

“The girls were a little bit crying and weeping,” Gleason said of the Shoreline tournament loss. “I said, 'Listen, we have to get our mind set for the states.' When we were 5-2-3 I thought, 'This is going to be a difficult season if we can't get these kids healthy.'

“It's been a complete, complete team effort. I have two or three subs off the bench I can use, but the girls like to be on the field. That's how my seniors are.”

Said McCarthy of going into the final 15 minutes against East Hampton with the score tied: “We needed to put that pressure on. We have a title to defend.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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