STONINGTON — Stonington High and East Lyme were tied with 16 minutes remaining Tuesday in the season-opening girls soccer game for both teams.
It appeared the ECC out-of-division game was going to be closely contested right to the very end. But in the next 12 minutes or so the Vikings put up five goals and roared past the Bears, 6-1.
"I think we definitely have a younger squad, and I think leadership on the field from all our players just wasn't there," Stonington coach Jennifer Solomon said.
East Lyme also put tremendous pressure on Stonington's backs and midfielders, dispossessing them of the ball many times. When that happened the Vikings were able to run free and get off uncontested shots when the ball was in the middle of the field.
When the Vikings took possession on the wings, they crossed the ball uncontested. That was one reason they rolled up five goals in just over 12 minutes.
"They were very athletic up front and they put three or four players up there," Solomon said. "And it was the first game of the season and we were feeling the pressure from a solid opponent. Our backs felt the pressure. I know they will respond very quickly in the next game."
East Lyme, which put 12 shots on goal in the second half, had demonstrated earlier in the half they were gaining control.
Stonington goalie Tori LoPresto had to make two quality saves in a two-minute span to prevent goals. In addition, Stonington defenders had to clear the ball twice from the line to prevent scores.
East Lyme coach Rachel Redding said the Vikings know the importance of applying pressure across the field.
"The idea is always to be a threat to the other team," Redding said. "If you are not moving to the ball, you are not making a difference in the game."
East Lyme, one of the traditional powers in the ECC, struggled to a 4-11-1 mark last season and did not qualify for the Class L tournament. In 2017, they reached the Class L semifinals.
"We didn't have the best season last year and to come out and play as well as we did with such a young team is great for them," Redding said. "It builds their confidence."
Meredith Healy and Emma Belleville each scored twice for the Vikings.
Stonington took a 1-0 lead with 30:21 remaining in the first half. Vanessa Benjamin played a near perfect ball out of the center of the field down the right wing.
Rachael Sabbadini ran onto the ball and carried it another 10-15 yards before lofting a shot into the left corner of the goal.
About nine minutes later, Benjamin played a through ball intended for freshman Carleigh O'Keefe. East Lyme keeper Avery Owen just beat O'Keefe to the ball at the 18-yard mark.
Benjamin played a number of quality balls in the first half from the midfield, but the Vikings took that away, for the most part, in the second half.
"I just pulled back a forward to cover that space and make it harder for her to get the ball," Redding said.
O'Keefe demonstrated good foot skills and speed, a quality shot and an understanding of the game in her first varsity start. Sabbadini and Megan Detwiler also had some effective passing combinations for the Bears.
"I thought we had some really good soccer moments," Solomon said. "They just did a better job of capitalizing on our mistakes.
"We have a strong core of good soccer players. They care and they will respond."
East Lyme finished with 17 shots on goal while the Bears had 10.
Stonington next hosts Chariho on Saturday in the first round of the Piver Cup tournament at 3 p.m.