MANSFIELD, Conn. -- First-team All-Little East Conference midfielder Linnea Reich (Middletown) saved the first game-winning goal of her 61-game career for the perfect moment – cleanly converting a penalty-kick goal with 7:13 remaining to boast the fourth-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University women's soccer team to a 1-0 win over fifth-seeded Plymouth State University in the first round of the Little East Conference tournament in a match played in a dense fog Tuesday evening at Rick McCarthy Field.
Eastern (7-11-0) advances to the tournament semifinals Thursday at 7 p.m. at top-seeded and regular-season co-winner University of Massachusetts Boston (17-2-1), which drew a first-round bye. UMass Boston blanked Eastern, 2-0, Sept. 28 at McCarthy Field.
The LEC tournament home win over Plymouth State (8-10) is Eastern's third in six years. The Warriors won, 2-1, in 2016, and 3-1 in 2014. The Warriors had garnered the first-round home match by surviving a 2-1, double-overtime decision Saturday over Plymouth, forcing the Panthers to return to McCarthy Field tonight.
After stopping seven shots in Saturday's win over Plymouth, first-year Eastern junior keeper Alexis Tyrrell (Torrington) made eight saves Tuesday to record her first shutout in eight career starts. Tyrrell, who lowered her goals-against average to 1.31 and improved her LEC-leading save percentage to .859, joined the team on October 7 after senior starting keeper Erin Collins (Millis, MA) was lost due to a career-ending broken finger sustained in a 1-0 shutout of the University of Southern Maine Oct. 5.
In an evenly-played match which featured several prime scoring chances for both teams, Eastern advanced to at least the tournament semifinals for the 19th straight year under 20th-year head coach Chris D'Ambrosio when Reich creased the lower right side of the inside netting with her first goal of the season in the 83rd minute. The perfectly-placed ball by Reich went unchallenged by Plymouth sophomore keeper Cat Robbins, who finished with four saves. Leading up to the PK, Eastern freshman defender Destiny Perez (Vernon) won Robbins' goal kick behind midfield and returned it to Eastern's offensive end by sending it ahead to Reich. Reich carried from midfield through the defense and into the box. As she was tripped up, she tapped it to freshman midfielder Juliette Hogan (Preston) on her right. Hogan was headed to the goal when she was taken down from behind, setting up Reich's penalty kick.
Plymouth had at least four chances to take the lead before Reich's game-winning goal. With just over two minutes left in the first half, Plymouth junior scoring leader Mallory Lloyd struck the ball from the left wing that sailed over Tyrell's head and bounced straight down and was cleared out of danger after hitting hit the crossbar. Two minutes into the second half, Eastern freshman defender Emily Belval's (Southbury) stepped in goal to clear a deflected ball out of danger after Tyrrell stopped consecutive point-blank shots by Lloyd sophomore midfielder Taylor Siewierski.
With the game still scoreless, Eastern controlled the momentum in the middle of the second half and threated on consecutive shots with 13 minutes left. Coming off the bench, junior midfielder Nina Langton (Bolton) was robbed by the left post on a shot that had beaten Robbins. The ball caromed back into the box to Langton, who was then denied on a diving stop by the keeper.
The Warriors had appeared to have taken the lead moments earlier on a goal off the rebound of save by Robbins, but the play was ruled offside.