If any team was capable of putting the brakes on the runaway freight train known as Northwest Catholic, it figured to be St. Joseph.
After all, the Cadets came into Friday evening’s state semifinal showdown at Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium having run roughshod through the state tournament.
But after outscoring its outclassed opponents by a resounding 21-1 through the first three rounds of the CIAC Class M tournament, fourth-seeded St. Joseph finally met its match in the form of top-seeded and undefeated Northwest Catholic.
Tactically sound in all phases, the Indians advanced to their second state final in three years with a 4-1 statement victory.
Sophomore Michelle Medina led the way with two goals and two assists for Northwest Catholic (18-0-1), which led 1-0 at the intermission and then broke the game open early in the second half with two set piece goals in a span of 1:20.
Trailing 4-0, the Cadets (18-3-2) got on the board with 16:06 remaining when Sabrina Toole played a through ball to dynamic sophomore classmate Sammi Grasso, who beat three defenders before a pinpoint shot into the upper corner past the outstretched arms of senior Rebbecca Sierejko.
Most of the highlights, however, belonged to the Indians, who outshot the Cadets 17-5 and kept the pressure on throughout the night.
“That was the best team we’ve faced all year,” St. Joe’s coach Jack Nogueira said. “They moved, attacked and defended well.”
The Cadets appeared to get the equalizer with eight minutes left in the first half on a pass from Grasso to star senior Alysa Christo, but an offsides call negated the goal.
“Who knows what happens if we score there,” Nogueira said, “But the right team won today. They were a lot better than I thought they’d be.”
Northwest Catholic’s Todd Sadler joked after the game that every coach wants his team to “play like Barcelona,” and yet this squad from the CCC wasn’t far off in terms of spacing the field and dictating the pace.
“We’re a possession-oriented team and I thought we played our style,” Sadler said. “I have a lot of respect for St. Joe’s, they’re well-coached and have some dangerous players up top. For the most part, we limited their chances and I can’t say enough about our set pieces. We practice those, and the girls really executed.”
Moments after freshman Madison Borowiec scored on a corner kick in the 43rd minute to make it 2-0, the Indians had another chance but a point blank shot by Melissa Nenninger was punched over the crossbar by sophomore goalie Molly Meehan (six saves).
Yet Northwest Catholic wouldn’t allow the ball out of the Cadets’ end, and took advantage of another corner kick as Nicole Medina scored off a cross by Michelle Medina.
“Our goal was to move the ball around and attack the goal,” Michelle Medina said.
When asked if she was surprised that the Indians’ trip the finals came so easily, Medina kept it short and sweet.
“No,” Medina said.
Northwest Catholic, which has posted 10 shutouts on the year and has now steamrolled its three opponents in the Class M bracket by a combined 19-2, will play second-seeded Granby Memorial for the championship next weekend.
The Cadets, meanwhile, will say goodbye to key seniors such as Christo, Jess Jowdy and Arianna Papaj, but will return a host of talent in 2012.
“We’ll celebrate what we accomplished and that is making the FCIAC and state semifinals,” Nogueira said.