CUMBERLAND — With exactly 13:24 left in regulation, Cumberland High head coach Stefanie Capone-Bello called a timeout to express her dismay at her troops failing to heed her halftime advice.
“Girls, we just talked about this!” she stated to the huddle around her. “We need to improve, or we’re not getting anyway. You’re still swinging at the ball instead of passing it. Now let’s do a better job!”
Just 2:20 later, junior midfielder Lindsay Sheehan answered her soliloquy. She knocked a hard shot about a foot off the turf and past senior goalkeeper Alasondra Apici, and that helped the Clippers open their Division II-North campaign with a thrilling 1-0 triumph over Classical at Tucker Field on Monday afternoon.
“I didn’t see the goal, not with all the bodies around the cage; there was quite the clump in front, but I’m sure glad it went in,” Capone-Bello grinned after the verdict. “We had a slow start because we just kept swinging at the ball. We just weren’t using our skills, and we were playing frantic.
“It took a while for us to get going, but – once we scored – we settled down,” she added. “That’s when we finally started to play our game.”
If anybody knew exactly what happened on the day’s lone tally, it was Sheehan herself.
“The defense hit the ball up to me, and I managed to get it into the circle (around the net),” she described. “I just shot it in. I had to elevate it a little bit if I wanted it to go in. Once it did, I was pumped!
“I had my fellow midfielder (sophomore Cassidy Simanski) on my left, and (classmate) Karin Dion was directly in front of me. She’s the one that screened the goalie … I knew our team would score. It didn’t matter if it was me or anyone else. I’m just glad we won.”
In the end, sophomore Michaela Simanski finished with two saves, and she had plenty of help from her defense/midfielders. They included Sheehan herself, the Simanski sisters, sophomore Reilly Clarey, junior Nicole Rochefort, senior sweeper Kaitlyn Carr and freshman Miranda Veilu, who assembled a superb defensive effort over the final 30 minutes.
“I thought my midfielders did a great job of defending the ball and controlling the pace of the game, and also moving it up to the forwards,” Capone-Bello noted. “I thought our underclassmen were very impressive, but – on the flip side – my seniors and juniors our really good leaders. They’re like coaches on the field.”
During the opening half, the two foes battled back and forth, each driving the ball deep into the other’s zone but neither coming away with many shots on goal. Midway through the stanza, the Purple strung together four consecutive penalty corners, but couldn’t manufacture an attempt on netminder Simanski.
Junior Genesis Castaneda came the closest from the left side, but Sheehan forced the turnover.
Both squads mustered six penalty corners in the half, and it looked like Cumberland might convert its sixth in the final minute. That’s when Dion, stationed just outside the left post, ripped a try at Apici (eight saves), but the latter used her right pad to boot it away.
A mere three minutes into the second session, Classical junior Jelyssa Rodriguez delivered an approximate 25-yard through pass to classmate Tessa Griffin, but two defenders deflected the latter’s shot away from harm.
Four minutes later, Cassidy Simanski whacked an attempt at Apici, but she returned the favor with another kick save.
Not long after came Capone-Bello’s timeout – call it a plea – and Sheehan’s heroics.
Down the stretch, Sheehan, senior Sarah Casey and Carr all forced stellar turnovers to keep the one-goal advantage intact.
Last season, Cumberland took its fine record all the way to the D-II semifinals before sustaining a 2-1 triple-overtime loss to eventual state champion Burrillville at East Greenwich High.
When asked if this group would hope to make a return trip at least as far, Capone-Bello responded, “I think we can. This is my fourth year coaching, and this is the first time our offense has been this strong. Usually, we were known for playing better defense, but couldn’t get the ball in the net.
“This season, I’ve got more experience offensively, despite the fact we’ve only got four returning starters,” she added. “We’re going to try to get back to where we were last year. We’ll see how things go.”