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Portland Girls Shut Out Hale-Ray

Highlanders bounce back after surprise loss to Little Noises last week.

It took a week, but the Portland girls’ soccer team was finally able to exact some revenge on Hale-Ray.

The Highlanders were reminded the hard way last week that no matter how much you might dominate an opponent, regardless the record of the other team, in soccer, one break or one mistake can make all the difference.

The outcome On Monday night was more to Portland’s liking as the Highlanders broke through with a first-half goal, then added three more in the second half en route to a 4-0 victory in East Haddam.

To say Portland (9-3) played with a little extra motivation would probably be an understatement.  If the 1-0 loss at home to the Little Noises last week wasn’t bad enough for the Highlanders, rain resulted in that being the last game they had played, giving them plenty of time to think on it.

“We lost to them the first time and the second time we came out saying we are not going to lose this game,” Rachel DeBarge said. “We are going to come out as hard as we can, leave everything on the field, come out with all the intensity we have, and every single one of us did that tonight. I’m proud of my team.”

Said coach Sandy Booth: “The kids really were focused on this and wanted to come in, play hard, and get some good quality chances again and get some behind that keeper.”

They did just that, starting with Amanda Ghent.

“I saw McKenzie Reimondo dribble down the end line and as soon as she turned the corner I knew she was going to hit a cross off,” said Ghent, who cashed in the nice assist 16:55 into the game. “I felt that last game we deserved to win. We played our hardest. When I saw that ball coming I said ‘I’m getting that and I’m making that keeper pay.’”

Though Portland continued to apply pressure on Hale-Ray, the first-half ended, 1-0.

In the second half, it was Reimondo’s turn. This time it was she who was the recipient of a nice assist, a cross from Alyssa Unikewicz, which she headed into the net 6:24 in.

“If I have a shot and if my teammate has a better shot, I’d rather give them the ball. I couldn’t ask for a better team,” said Unikewicz, who added that she is used to crossing the ball a lot. “I saw the ball going in the net. I saw McKenzie jumping up and down. I was really happy for her. That was her first header ever in her high school career, so I was really happy to give her that assist.”

Ghent scored her second goal at 19:54 to make it 3-0.

“I did not think that was going in,” she said. “It was a weak shot, but it was on the ground and the grass is a little slippery. So, it was luck.”

Less than a minute later, some good fortune played a role in the Highlanders’ final goal as well.

Unikewicz had a direct kick near the sideline to the right of the goalkeeper. It wasn’t the best of angles and far from the goal, so she launched what she thought was a cross.

“I didn’t really think I was actually going to shoot the ball,” she said. “It was meant for a cross.”

However, the arching shot found the back of the net to the left of keeper Brit Yackovetsky for a 4-0 lead.

“I was ecstatic,” Unikewicz said. “I was expecting a cross. I was looking for my teammate to be there because I know that if I put the ball there they will be there. It just happened to go in. I was very happy.”

Hale-Ray was able to mount a couple of threats in the second half but Portland goalkeeper Marisa DiMare came up big both times.

Coming into the game, Booth made an adjustment designed to create more offense. It worked. Portland had 16 shots to Hale-Rays’ eight. The Highlanders also had six corner kicks to two by the Little Noises.

“We spread out the offense a little bit, put another forward up front and we were fortunate we got some goals this time,” he said. “They were loading the back on us. They had five defenders back there. Once we were able to contain their forwards with three defenders instead of the usual four, that adjustment, I think made the difference for us. It was another body up there to put some more pressure on them. Force a few turnovers and control the ball with a forward down there, and it paid off. That extra body makes all the difference."

Though Hale-Ray (2-8) has struggled this season, Portland knew this was an important game if they are to put themselves in the position they want to be.

“We’ve had a couple little bumps these last two weeks,” Booth said. “Went to Coginchaug, got outplayed there. These guys came to our place a week ago and really played hard. Sometimes you dominate and the other team plays hard and defends well, and we make a mistake and they capitalize.

“We’re solid. We’re hopefully back on track. We‘ve got four remaining. We want to try and make a good run for the Shoreline tournament and for the state tournament.”

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