WESTERLY — It was evident the Narragansett High girls’ soccer team missed the talents of junior Chelsea Sahagian, who was Division II’s leading scorer with 19 goals in just 10 games before she got hurt, in the Mariners’ state tournament preliminary game Monday against Westerly High.
It was even more certain that Narragansett coach Kathryn Mahoney won’t miss playing against Bulldog striker Brittany DeGrooth any time soon.
For the second straight season, DeGrooth’s speed and footwork eliminated the Mariners in a tournament preliminary game. Last year, DeGrooth scored four goals to lift Westerly to a 4-3 overtime win.
Tuesday, she scored three to power Westerly to a 4-0 victory against Narragansett and lift the sixth-seeded Bulldogs into the quarterfinals at third-seeded Burrillville 3:15 p.m. Thursday.
“[DeGrooth] is a quick player and is good with her feet,” Mahoney said. “She knows how to make through runs to catch up with passes and beat fullbacks. With us not having Chelsea to generate an attack, it was too much for our defense to get pummeled like that for 80 minutes. We were worn out.”
Westerly (8-8-2) wore out a patch on the right side of the field thanks to DeGrooth’s runs up the sideline. Midway through the season, Bulldog coach Clyde Britt switched DeGrooth from center forward to right forward to take advantage of her natural right-foot skills. Mackenzie Donnelly moved to center, and the Bulldogs’ offense prospered.
“We made the change when we lost 3-1 to Burrillville (Sept. 26),” Britt said. “We were learning, but what the change did was open our eyes to what we needed to do. Having Mackenzie in the middle and Brittany on the right makes our offense so much more fluid and allows Brittany to take more advantage of her speed.”
DeGrooth, who has 19 goals and six assists, wreaked havoc in the Mariner backfield from the start, narrowly missing two scoring chances early. She made a nice cross from the right just 10 minutes into the game, but no Bulldog was there to collect the pass. Fourteen minutes into the game, she dribbled the ball 40 yards up the right side on a sprint and sent a shot inside the right post. Narragansett Ceili O’Connell made a diving save, knocking the ball out of bounds to lead to a Westerly corner kick.
The constant pressure on the 45-degree night made Narragansett (4-8-3) relent when DeGrooth scored a pair of goals on nice lead passes midway through the first half.
On the first, Amy Luther chipped a pass up the middle over the Narragansett defense. DeGrooth caught up to it in front of a charging Mariner goalie Ceili O’Connell, tapped the ball to the left around the goalkeeper and left-footed a kick into an open net from 12 yards out at the 23:29 mark.
About two minutes later, Johanna Mills lofted a long lead pass to DeGrooth, who sprinted up the right side and sent a strong kick into the far left corner.
“Coach always tells me on breakaways to contain, contain, contain, meaning not to push the ball too far ahead,” DeGrooth said.
“If I stay calm even if I have two girls on me, I feel I can run past them. Sometimes I get too excited and push the ball four steps ahead and the goalie gets it. If I keep the ball two steps ahead, I’m more effective.”
Westerly took a 2-0 lead into the second half and limited Narragansett to two first-half shots off net. Bulldog goalkeeper Emily Sullivan did not have to make a first-half save. Just over two minutes into the second half, DeGrooth made a 50-yard dribble past two defenders up her favorite right side, drawing O’Connell to the right flank. Just as the Mariner goalie made her move, DeGrooth kicked a high shot from 18 yards out into the far left corner to make it, 3-0.
DeGrooth had one more chance to tie her record of four goals, but O’Connell made the save on a 15-yard shot in front of the net.
Westerly added a fourth goal with 10:15 left when regular fullback Charlott Ross, moved up front by Britt, scored her first goal of the season, collecting a crossing pass from Julia Wickland, and ramming the ball from a crowd into the net from 5-yards out.
The Bulldogs played most of the game without starting midfielder Emily Luther, who hurt her leg just three minutes in and did not return. Britt was unsure about her status for Thursday.