Sunday November 11, 2012

WESTFIELD -- Andy Waluszko thought the gliding ball might have a chance.

The Pittsfield girls soccer coach watched and hoped as Lindsay Neuberger's free kick sailed across the mouth of goal. With less than a minute to go before a potential penalty-kick shootout against East Longmeadow in the Western Massachusetts Division I semifinals, a lot was riding on that spinning ball.

When it flew into the back of the net, the Pittsfield bench exploded.

"I had took a corner a couple of seconds before and it didn't go exactly where I wanted it to," Neuberger said. "That was just a second chance to put it on goal. I was really lucky that it just curved over the keeper. It's amazing."

The goal gave Pittsfield a milestone 2-1 victory over the top-seeded Spartans in double overtime at Westfield State University on Saturday. The win sends the Generals to Monday's Western Mass. final against Minnechaug at 3:30 p.m. It's someplace Pittsfield has never been under Waluszko.

"From the angle I had it was like ‘I think that's going to go in,' " Waluszko said. "It was a great shot. We took down the No. 1 seed tonight. It's an awesome feeling."

The win avenged an earlier 1-0 loss to East Longmeadow (16-2-1) at Kirvin Park during the regular season. The Spartans seemed poised for a repeat when they struck first. Danielle White glided into the box less than 15 minutes into the game, working some quick passing with Julia Weithofer before blasting a shot into the corner of the net.

The lead didn't last long. Less than two minutes later, Meghan Driscoll lofted a free kick into the box from near midfield. The ball bounced around in the mixer before Aleah Sangiovanni got a hold of it and knocked it in.

"That was big for us," Waluszko said. "She got in there. She mixed it up. She got a goal. That was huge for us."

The game dragged on, with both teams putting together scoring chances. White gave the No. 5 Generals (13-1-3) plenty of fits, coming open on free kicks or slicing threw the defense. Nicole Alfonsi was that kind of agitator for Pittsfield, fighting her way to 50-50 balls and doing good work down the wing.

The biggest spark came from Neuberger. Waluszko started her on defense, something he's done since she suffered a concussion early in the season. He moved her up in the second half and she started chasing balls forward.

Neuberger almost helped set up the game-winner half an hour early, running through a deflection on the wing and driving deep in Spartans territory with nine minutes left in regulation. She swung the ball into the box, where the Generals tried to get a clean shot, eventually forcing East Longmeadow keeper Anne Stack to make a one-handed save to preserve the tie.

"Their defense was so tired," Neuberger said. "We were just able to outrun them. It was great."

Both early goal scorers ended the game on the bench, with Sangiovanni going down after a collision in regulation and White dislocating her knee in overtime. Without White threatening, Pittsfield had better chances in the second overtime, pushing for a corner with 1:12 to go before earning the winning free kick.

"It was a great shot, you know?" said East Longmeadow coach Jenny Maurer. "Unfortunately it came with 50 seconds left after a very chippy game. They got a call. It was a great shot. I don't think anybody could do anything about it."

That shot sets up a rematch of last year's Western Mass. semifinal, where Minnechaug took down the Generals 1-0. Saturday's game was Pittsfield's fourth straight trip to the semifinals. Now, the Generals have finally made it to the sectional tournament's final day.

"I'm most happy not that I'm the one who scored but I give the seniors another chance to play," Neuberger said. "That's what they really want."

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Pittsfield 1 0 0 1 -- 2

E. Longmeadow 1 0 0 0 -- 1

First Half

E--Danielle White (Julia Weithofer), 14:54.

P-- Aleah Sangiovanni (UA), 16:20.

Second Overtime

P -- Lindsay Neuberger (UA), 99:10.

Saves -- P: Allie Hunt 6; E: Anne Stack 6.