Jaguars score late to beat Spartans in preliminary round

WINDHAM – For a girls soccer team that until the last day of the regular season wasn’t even expected to be in the Division II girls soccer tournament, Milford High School certainly played as if it belonged all along.

The No. 15 Spartans gave No. 2 Windham a scare on numerous occasions Wednesday afternoon, but it was the Jaguars breaking through for two goals in the final three minutes of regulation to record a 2-0 first round win at home.

With time winding down in the second half, Talia Giardino fed Rachel Vafides on the left wing. Vafides got a high shot off that sailed over everybody, including Milford’s keeper, and found the inside of the far post for the 1-0 lead in the 77th minute of play. Just over one minute later, Sarah Chau scored on a nice feed in front of the net from Selena Hansen to lock the game up.

Windham head coach Matt Bryant was impressed with Milford’s fight.

“We didn’t play as well as we were capable, but a lot of that is credit to them,” said Bryant, whose Jaguars ended up falling to Hanover in the quarterfinals. “They came in with a ton of confidence. They knocked off the first seed last week. So they helped themselves to get in. They gave us everything they had.”

Until Oct. 25, the defending Division II champions weren’t scheduled to play in the postseason, even after a 2-1 win over top-seeded Portsmouth in the final week of action.

But on the bus ride to Alvirne that final Friday afternoon of the regular season, Milford head coach Russell Matthews received a call he never expected.

He was told that Hollis Brookline had used an ineligible player for all but three games this season. The Cavaliers were forced to forfeit eight games, two of which were now Milford wins and just enough for the Spartans to secure one of the final two tournament spots.

For 76 minutes of play, that’s exactly what Milford did – none more noticeable than goal keeper Rebecca Cleary.

The Milford junior made eight saves between the pipes, disrupted multiple plays Windham tried setting into the box and directed traffic from the back out in a tense tournament opener.

“She gave it all for our team,” said Matthews of his keeper, who until this season was playing midfield.

“Last game against Alvirne she has deep bone bruises on her fingers, so we weren’t sure if she was going to play today. She’s huge, the stuff that she does and the way she came along and matured in that position this season was just huge.”

On the other end of the pitch, Cleary’s counterpart was just as capable. Windham’s Brianna Angelini finished the day with six saves of her own.

“They came to play,” Matthews said. “It was a sense of pride. We wanted to make the playoffs. We just wanted to get here and see what happened.

“When we’re on and we play together, we can play with anybody. That’s what we did today.”