Published September 26. 2013 4:00AM
Norwich - Norwich Free Academy senior Gabbi Wise has memories of growing up watching baseball games at Dodd Stadium.
When NFA girls' soccer coach Steve Brunetti told his players, Wise among them, they would be playing a game this season on the pristine outfield grass at Dodd, Wise wasn't sure what to expect. A soccer game with peanuts and Cracker Jacks?
"I didn't even know how they were going to set it up," Wise said Wednesday night, when the NFA girls were part of the first soccer game in the 19-year history of the stadium. "When we got here, everyone was just, like, laying on the field seeing how cushy it was. The length of the grass, the lines … it was just really classy."
Bacon Academy defeated NFA 1-0 in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division matchup, scoring after a free kick from Shelby Tallman from well over 30 yards away powered its way into the goal at 31 minutes, 39 seconds.
The boys' teams from the two schools will also play at Dodd tonight and Connecticut Tigers general manager C.J. Knudsen said he's hoping to set up even a few more games before the end of the fall.
Knudsen said more than 70 high school and college baseball games were held at the stadium in the spring before the Tigers, who compete in the short-season New York-Penn League, settled in for the summer.
The New York-Penn League All-Star game was held at the stadium, as well, and Tigers Director of Facilities and Turf Management Bryan Barkley was recently named the league's Groundskeeper of the Year.
"This is tremendous," Brunetti said of playing at the stadium, which even had a concession stand open for fans attending the game. "In my 50 years coaching and playing, I've never played or coached on a grass field like this. It's a great experience for the girls.
"They didn't know what to expect, then we walked in and saw how beautiful this is. … I could be happier with the loss, but other than that I couldn't be happier."
It was also a different experience for NFA, which practices on a field much smaller than regulation and with field hockey goal cages. Brunetti often says each season that his team needs time to adjust to game conditions.
Trailing 1-0, the Wildcats (0-5-1, 0-3) gained confidence in the second half, sending several through balls to Wise at center midfield.
She had an opportunity to score on a breakaway shortly after halftime, but sliding Bacon goalie Kylie Frink was just able to deflect it away from the empty net.
Midway through the half, Wise came in from the right side only to have Frink slide into the ball with her entire body and knock it away once again, and with 16 minutes remaining NFA's Cassidy Marshall hit the cross bar at full force, redirecting a corner kick taken by Sophia Formiglio.
Wise had one more breakaway with 9:00 to go, alone once again with Frink at about the 10-yard-line, but with Frink bearing down Wise shot the ball wide to the left.
"We had plenty of (opportunities), I can't fault them for that," Brunetti said. "We'll be OK. We got it into the penalty area. We've come a long way this year."
NFA goalie Rosa Conte made eight saves and Frink was credited with four for Bacon (2-1-2, 2-1).
Knudsen said the idea of soccer at Dodd was something he had been mulling over and he first approached Bacon athletic director Kevin Burke.
"The field's in great shape and when it comes down to it, the athletes are having fun. It's fun for the teams for them to be a part of the experience," Knudsen said. "It's absolutely perfect."