Published November 13. 2013 4:00AM
Montville — St. Bernard's season ended in cruel fashion in the Class S girls' soccer semifinals.
The second-seeded Saints controlled play on a cold, windy Tuesday night on the Montville High School turf but couldn't crack Old Saybrook's defensive shell.
The No. 11 Rams had the ultimate trump card in all-state senior goalie Mia Neas, who made several spectacular saves.
After a scoreless regulation and overtime, Neas stopped two penalty kicks and the other attempt rolled wide while her teammates - Gabby Rose, Molly Beck and Elizabeth O'Brien - converted to send the Rams to the first state championship game in program history.
"I like the pressure, I guess," said Neas, who will play at the University of New Hampshire next year. "I just felt I was really ready for (penalty kicks). I practice multiple kicks, day in and day out."
It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Saints, who finished 16-5 overall.
"I give the goalie props, she's a very good goalie," senior Allison Regan said. "I just thought it was an unfair way to win."
Can't blame Regan and her teammates for being frustrated. The Saints clearly had the best scoring chances, holding a 16-2 edge in shots.
But Neas made several tremendous saves (11 overall). Her best two stops before penalty kicks came on consecutive shots with about five minutes left in the first half.
Senior Talia Coleman's nice pass sent Regan on a mini-breakaway up the middle. Neas raced out to block the first attempt, but the ball rolled back to Regan.
But Neas alertly recovered, jumping back up to block Regan's second shot.
"My heart broke when I didn't make either of those, because those were my opportunities," Regan said while fighting back tears.
Old Saybrook executed its game plan, packing in the defense and leaving few openings up the middle. The Rams focused on marking Regan and Coleman, two dangerous players.
Many St. Bernard's shots came from long range.
"We knew this was how they were going to play, so it wasn't like we were taken by surprise," St. Bernard coach Chris Ghiglia said. "We just didn't execute the game plan that we put in place. We just missed some chances."
Neither team had a quality chance in overtime. The Rams felt confident heading into the penalty kicks with a hot goalie on their side.
On the other hand, St. Bernard goalie Alexandra Santiago spent more time fending off the cold than Old Saybrook shots, making just one save.
The first round set the tone, Rose buried a low hard shot for the Rams. Then Neas made a spectacular diving stop of a Regan shot targeted for the left corner.
"She's just been an inspiration for our team and also just an unbelievable keeper," Old Saybrook coach Larry Bright said. "That first penalty kick was going to hit off the post and go in and she basically dove and not just knocked it down, she caught it.
"It's very intimidating to the other team when that happens. The next girl missed it."
Neas guessed right again on the third penalty kick for the victory-clinching save that ended St. Bernard's season.
Despite the loss, the Saints had reason to celebrate, too. They won an ECC Small Division title this year and reached the state semifinals.
"Obviously, we achieved a lot of great things," Ghiglia said. "We're not going to let penalty kicks take away from three months worth of work.
"But we're disappointed. We really wanted to play on Saturday."