Branford tops Law, moves on in Class L girls soccer tournament
MILFORD — On a raw, rainy, windy Tuesday night, nothing was a given. No save could be taken for granted. And in the final minute, Nina Grabowiecki had to make one more save to preserve Branford’s 2-1 lead.
Law’s Jocelyn Wirth found the ball in the box, looking for the tying goal at home against Branford in the first round of the CIAC Class L girls soccer tournament.
“I just came out. She kicked it right to my chest,” Grabowiecki said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The Hornets sent the ball the other way and ran down the final seconds of the program’s first postseason win in three years.
“We just really wanted it,” Grabowiecki said.
That’s precisely what Grabowiecki’s coach, Jennifer Kohut, said about the senior keeper: “She just wants it so bad.” And though Law broke on top 17 minutes into the game, without some big stops from Grabowiecki, the game would have been quite different.
“The first 10 or 15 minutes we had three, aside from our goal, three other really, really good chances,” Law coach J.D. Rhode said. “If we put those three away, I’m not even sure they score that first goal.”
Melanie Sachs tied it seven minutes after Law took the lead, and she scored again 46 seconds into the second half.
Branford (7-7-3), the 28th seed, is scheduled to visit 21st-seeded E.O. Smith (9-8) at 2 p.m. in Thursday’s second round. The Panthers beat 12th-seeded Watertown (11-5-3) on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie that had been scoreless after regulation.
The Hornets’ last playoff win was over Farmington in Class L in 2014, a year after making the final.
Fifth-seeded Law was looking for its first CIAC tournament victory, but finishes 13-4-3 after its best season. The team reached the SCC final.
“The girls should be very proud,” Rhode said. “This sets us up for the future.”
Samara Thacker put away a scramble in the box to give Law a lead after controlling play early. Grabowiecki had stopped Thacker and Wirth in close earlier.
“We needed to get our composure,” Kohut said.
Grabowiecki said the team had fallen behind before and lost close games. This time, the Hornets had a comeback.
Brown ran up the right side and crossed to Sachs to tie it. Then a foul early in the second half gave Branford a free kick from about 40 yards out. Suzanne Prota put it to the front of the net, where keeper Jillian Hall got a piece of it. Sachs, a sophomore, swept in to boot it off the goal line into the net.
Branford keeper Nina Grabowiecki kept her team in the game and saved it at the end.
On a 40-degree night when it poured all game long, there could be no more appropriately named player than Branford co-captain Wyntre Fries.
After the Hornets put a ball out of bounds, a ballboy flipped another toward the sideline. The ball landed in a puddle and sat in place. Law’s Grace Wootton kicked it toward Morgan Macey for the throw-in. It barely moved.
“We’ve been in every single game. We’re just a hard-working team.” —Branford coach Jennifer Kohut. Five of Branford’s seven losses were by one goal, and the other two were two-goal losses.