Tuesday November 13, 2012

WESTFIELD -- When you’re building a great defense, one senior and a freshman goalkeeper aren’t the first two ingredients you reach for.

Yet, that’s exactly what the Pittsfield girls soccer team did this season. And it worked.

"It was a work in progress," said Generals coach Andy Waluszko. "We did tremendous. With Allie [Hunt] in the net we never had an opponent score more than one goal on us all year."

That held true in Monday’s 4-2 penalty-kick shootout loss to No. 3 Minnechaug (11-5-5) following a 1-1 tie in the Western Massachusetts Division I final. The Falcons had just one regulation goal -- in the next-to-last minute -- at Westfield State University. Time and time again, the No. 5 Generals’ back line closed on attackers, shutting down shooting lanes and tackling balls away.

"They’re there," said Minnechaug coach Nundi Goncalves. "They’re hard-core. [Meghan Driscoll], outstanding. Š They’re very organized. They’re very well-coached. I took three showers [Monday] I was so nervous."

And with good reason. The Generals (13-1-4) finished the year with 11 shutouts -- including a postseason clean sheet against Northampton. The unit was all over the place in the Western Mass. final. When a Minnechaug attacker found space, Pittsfield nearly always prevented clean shots in the box. Morgan Matthews, senior Deanna Nesti, Lindsay Neuberger, Carly Robinson, Taylor Patti and Driscoll weren’t afraid to make tackles in the box.

"You have to stay composed and stay calm," Nesti said. "If you get nervous and you’re thinking that they’re going to score, you’re going to mess up and you’re not going to get the ball. But if you stay calm and you have confidence in yourself, I think the main aspect of being able to do that is confidence, being able to know you’re going to stop the ball."

That confidence was apparent. None of the defenders were afraid to strike the ball with their head, with Neuberger clearing it out in the final seconds of overtime. Driscoll stood tall on corners, clearing a ball that was destined to end the game from the six-yard box in the extra session.

Matthews, who has at times pushed up into the offense from her stopper position, had a stuff that was just as impressive in the final period. When Jaileen Goncalves broke into the box, Matthews stepped up, tackling the ball away. A less-than-perfect slide and it’s a penalty kick. This one was clean.

"Our defense, before every game we just say ‘We can’t let anything past us,’ " Matthews said. "Meghan in the back, she’s a brick wall. She gets to every ball or me or Dee [Nesti]."

Then, there’s the sure-handed Hunt in net. Twice in the final minutes of double overtime the freshman stoned the Falcons on well-struck, redirected corner kicks. It turns out the only time Minnechaug -- or virtually anyone -- could consistently score against the Generals was when the defense was off the field in the shootout.

"It’s amazing how they all come together," said midfielder Sydney Deluce. "They save our butts so many times."