PITTSFIELD -- The St. Joseph's girls soccer team confidently dispatched Franklin Tech 2-1 to win its first Western Massachusetts Division III tournament game in six years on Sunday.
By controlling the pitch for the majority of the game, the No. 8 Crusaders (8-6-3) kept the ninth-seeded Eagles (5-5-3) scoreless until late in the match. For a core group of seven St. Joe's seniors, the win vindicates five years of progression as a team.
"It's crazy. We've been playing for five years and never made it into the tournament before, so it's cool to be advancing to the next round," said senior captain Emma Peplowski, who has played on the team since eighth grade. "Everyone worked really hard, so it's nice to finally be rewarded with [a win]."
The Crusaders began the game uncharacteristically efficiently, posting an early 1-0 lead, and survived a late scare to capture a win in the opening-round match played at Berkshire Community College.
Freshman Olivia Mazzeo was positioned perfectly in the opposing box when she received a fortunate goal-scoring chance at an open net. Bailey Vinette gained deep position by way of the left sideline, before sending a cross that passed in front of a couple of players before finding Mazzeo for the go-ahead goal, the first of her career, coming in the ninth minute.
Coach Betsy D'Agostino said it is unlike her team to settle in and play as comfortably as it did during the onset of Sunday's game.
"Usually, we take a good 15 minutes to warm up, so to speak, before we really start to get in the game, whether there's a score on the board or not," D'Agostino said. "But I think today we started sharp right out the gate quick. We kept the momentum the majority of the time."
Keegan McCauley added what became the game-winning goal in the 44th minute, driving a direct kick into the top-right corner of the goal from nearly 25 yards away. At the time, the goal seemed to be a form of insurance for the Crusaders.
For the majority of the game, St. Joe's dominated possession, rarely affording Franklin Tech an opportunity to cross midfield, let alone gain a scoring opportunity. That is, until a lapse in collective focus allowed Franklin Tech to tally a late score in the 76th minute from Skyler Williams.
"We were up 2-0, so I guess we started to slack back a little bit," Peplowski said. "The important thing is, it didn't hold us back. We kept pushing forward and we didn't let another one in."
As rewarding as this win is for the seasoned St. Joe's squad, a second-round win would be that much sweeter. It will need first go through defending Western Mass. Division III champion Lenox (11-4-2, 4-3-1), the top seed in this year's tournament. That game is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Lenox.