By Nelson Coffin
Using at least half of its most recent practice sessions to concentrate on maintaining possession of the ball paid off for the St. Paul's School for Girls indoor soccer team in Saturday's B Conference championship match against Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The Gators (10-1-1, 9-0-1 conference) dominated time of possession in the 4-2 victory over the Cougars (7-6-2, 6-3-1) that secured a second straight title for coach Joie Gill's squad.
"We worked a lot on moving off-ball and doing what we had to do to keep possession," said Gill, whose husband, Nick, led Mercy to the A Conference crown after the Gators prevailed earlier in the afternoon.
Junior forward Zari Hayes had the game's most pivotal goal when she scored with just four seconds remaining in the first half to snap a 1-1 tie.
"She got loose on us," Mount Carmel coach Chris Mazan said. "It was a backbreaker."
Hayes said that she was panicking a little as time was running out in the opening period. However, she raced to the ball along the right wing and let loose a hard shot.
"I thought if I ripped it, it would either go in or somebody would follow it," she said.
The ball rocketed just inside the far post to give her team a 2-1 lead and plenty of momentum for the second half.
Sure enough, only four minutes into the second half, sophomore Laney Cornelius upped the advantage to 3-1 when she slotted a rebound off Mount Carmel freshman keeper Cassidy Fitzpatrick (17 saves).
A Hayes header with 13:46 remaining in regulation took even more wind out of the Cougars' sails as the lead ballooned to 4-1.
Junior defender Katie Kovalick's goal with just under seven minutes left in regulation gave Mount Carmel a ray of hope, although that brief blip of optimism
was wiped out after the Cougars could not solve St. Paul's junior keeper Annie Schindler (9 saves) while enjoying a two-minute man-advantage.
"We were chasing them a lot," Mazan said. "And we didn't take advantage of our chances."
The only time the Cougars did cash in early was on a free kick by sophomore center midfielder Taylor Mazan that gave her team a 1-0 lead in the third minute.
They nearly added to the narrow cushion until St. Paul's senior defender Kendall Harte cleared a shot off the goal line by Mount Carmel junior forward Ashley Conway that seemed destined to elude Schindler.
After that, St. Paul's started knocking on the door on well-struck shots by freshman forward Angelina Pino and junior defender Shelton Sawers that Fitzpatrick adroitly turned away,
With 8:13 left in the first period, Cornelius tied it from 7 yards.
Hayes then provided the next two goals to turn the tide.
"It was a huge sigh of relief," Gill said. "She's worked so hard, and she was salivating for a goal."
Hayes said that winning a second straight title was special.
"it really feels really good inside to bring the trophy home to our school," she said.