WESTFIELD -- The Pittsfield girls soccer team has shed a lot of tears over the years in the quest for a Western Massachusetts Division I title.
The ones that flowed freely on Monday at Westfield State University may be the most painful yet.
The Generals were so close, playing even with Minnechaug for 100 minutes in the sectional championship. A 1-1 tie that began in the afternoon sun ended in a 4-2 penalty-kick shootout win for the Falcons under the bright lights of Alumni Field.
"I love my team so much and we left everything we have on this field," said defender Deanna Nesti. "In my eyes, we're winners. We came from Pittsfield. Nobody even knows about Pittsfield and now they do. We made it to the finals of the Western Mass. Division I soccer tournament and I could not ask for more."
Minnechaug sent No. 5 Pittsfield (13-1-4) home for the fourth time in five years, but this effort was epic. How do you pick the defining moment? Was it third-seeded Minnechaug (11-5-5) finally breaking through the Pittsfield defense with 92 seconds left? Maybe it was Courtney McLaughlin's sweeping, rainbow of a goal that forced overtime 80 ticks later. Or Meghan Driscoll's clear from six yards away for Pittsfield and Allie Hunt's two massive saves off corners in overtime that kept the Generals alive. It could even be the two missed penalty kicks by Pittsfield.
No, this whole night was special.
"It's crazy," said Minnechaug coach Nundi Goncalves, laughing in wonder and flipping a game ball as his team celebrated. "People say ‘[Do] you practice PKs?' Yeah. Once. How do you simulate this? You don't. You can't."
That was the problem for Pittsfield. While the Falcons calmly placed four balls where Hunt had no chance, Sydney Deluce and Lindsay Neuberger both struck balls high. Deluce hit the bar and Neuberger's was tipped over by Falcons keeper AnnaMaria Ribeiro.
"It just sucks," Deluce said. "The last game I'll ever be with these girls. It sucks. I'm always 50-50 with PKs. I don't know. I make them mostly, but the pressure gets to me."
The shootout loss cast a shadow over the game's final, exhilarating half-hour. Pittsfield survived assault after assault from Minn echaug until Jaileen Goncalves knocked home what surely appeared to be the game-winner with 1:32 to play off a corner.
Generals coach Andy Waluszko called a timeout, pushing the attack up. With time slipping away, McLaughlin took a shot from the right side that arced toward the net. Much like Neuberger's game-winning free kick against East Longmeadow on Saturday, this one escaped the outstretched hand of Ribeiro and improbably tied the game.
"I just turned around and started screaming," McLaughlin said. "I didn't know what else to do. I was just so excited. I just started running around everywhere."
The Falcons had the best opportunities in the overtime session. Rene Hamel ripped a shot off the bar in the first extra period while Pittsfield's Morgan Matthews had to make a game-saving tackle in the box on Goncalves in the final frame. Hunt made two huge saves on corners in the final 10 minutes.
"In the huddle we were just saying, ‘Don't give them corner kicks, don't give them corner kicks,' " said Generals coach Andy Waluszko. "There was a few corner kicks I was getting a little nervous, but Allie came up with some huge saves."
Those stops sent the title match to the shootout. Despite finally getting a postseason goal against Minnechaug after nearly 320 minutes and five years of frustration, Pittsfield couldn't stop the Falcons' playoff run. Or the tears.
"This was a special season for these girls," Waluszko said. "I'm extremely proud of what they've accomplished and what they did. They never stopped. They believed we could win it. Unfortunately it went to PKs and we came up on the wrong side."
Minnechaug 1, Pittsfield 1 (4-2 PKs)
Pittsfield 0 1 0 0 -- 1
Minnechaug 0 1 0 0 -- 1
M -- Jaileen Goncalves (Rene Hamel), 78:28.
P -- Courtney McLaughlin (Nicole Alfonsi), 79:48.
Penalty kicks -- P: Kara Alfonsi, Rachael Hunt. M: Goncalves, Katelyn Matroni, Kathryn Falconer, Hamel.
Saves -- P: Allie Hunt 5; M: AnnaMaria Ribeiro 7.