WEST HAVEN — The Guilford girls’ soccer team’s strength all season long has been it defense. The Indians posted 10 shutouts during the regular season.
Guilford put up three more stellar defensive performances in the SCC tournament. That included Wednesday night’s SCC championship game, a 2-1 win for the third-seeded Indians over No. 4 Shelton.
“I’m very proud of this group,” said Guilford coach Scott McMahon about his third title. “We have the defense and the speed on the outside. It is similar to our defense when we won our last title. It’s our best defense since then.”
It’s Guilford’s sixth SCC championship in seven appearances and the program’s first since 2014.
“All my (previous) years, we haven’t made it past the first round of the SCC (tournament),” said Madison Gambardella, the SCC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “So winning it my senior year is awesome. The girls have had the chemistry on and off the field so it feels really rewarding to finally get that win.”
Guilford (13-2-4) shut out Foran and Mercy by the same 1-0 margin in the SCC tournament quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
After Leya Vohra cut the deficit in half for Shelton with over 9 minutes left on Wednesday, the Indians hung on to preserve the title.
“We knew they had a couple of great players. We were aware of them, but we didn’t mark or focus on them in any specific sort of way. We wanted to play our game and felt confident our game would be good enough,” McMahon said.
Shelton was the defending champion and was seeking its fourth title of this decade.
“We knew it was going to be a war and that’s what it was,” Shelton coach Marvin Miller said. “In the first half, they put us on our back foot and came at us really hard. We didn’t settle it very well.”
The Gaels have 10 shutouts themselves, including two in the previous two rounds against Sheehan (1-0) and Cheshire (2-0).
Sophia Gabriel broke the scoreless tie for Guilford in the 22nd minute. The Gaels made a defensive mistake and Gabriel made them pay.
“It was a tough angle, but I snuck it in,” Gabriel said. “Not playing last year (due to an ACL injury), it was nice to win it this year.”
Said McMahon: “We knew they were a tough team. We wanted to get the lead and make it tough for them to come from behind.”
Gabriel assisted on the second goal. Her shot was saved by Shelton goalkeeper Arianna Malick, but she couldn’t control it. Lily Riccio was waiting in front of the net and knocked in the second goal.
“Both of their goals were directly attributed to mistakes we made,” Miller said. “Give them credit, they put the pressure on us and forced us into those errors.”
Shelton was awarded a penalty kick because of a hand ball in the box. Vohra sailed the attempt over the crossbar.
But the senior redeemed herself less than a minute later with a long blast off the crossbar and straight down. The officials conferred and determined the ball had crossed the line for a goal with just over 9 minutes left in regulation.
“It says a lot about Leya as a player and as a competitor to put that behind her and deliver that nice shot,” Miller said. “Ans basically give us a shot to come back and win the game. I think we ran out of time. ... We had to get through the swarm of defenders they put in front of us. They had six or seven kids back there at some points. It was tough to get through.”
Said Gambardella: “If they get a goal, we were not going to let that go our heads and freak us out. We knew we could control our defense and pack it in, and thats what we did to keep it at 2-1. We just didn’t let them score.”