Tuesday’s game against winless Cranston West shaped up as a good chance for the Toll Gate girls’ soccer team to snap a five-game losing streak.
A 1-0 deficit just two minutes into the game was not part of the plan, but the Titans didn’t let that or any other hurdle get in the way. Freshman Hannah McNulty scored four goals – including two equalizers plus the game-winner in the 74th minute – as the Titans won 4-3 for their second victory of the season.
“It was a very good thing to see them bounce back from being down,” said Toll Gate coach Lonna Razza. “All season, we’ve been playing from behind and they kind of lose it after a while. Today, they just said, ‘We’re down, we’ve got to step it up.’ They did and they persevered through the whole game.”
The first three goals of the game came in a four-minute span, a sign of things to come for the late back-and-forth. West led 1-0 just 2:30 into the game on a goal by Gabby Caruso, but the Titans responded just a minute later as McNulty turned and blasted a shot from the top right corner of the box. In the sixth minute, the Falcons struck again as Caruso dribbled across the top of the box and slipped a perfect pass to Kate Capuano, who placed a shot into the far corner of the net for the 2-1 lead.
That lead lasted a little longer, but the Titans wouldn’t let it last too long. In the 16th minute, McNulty got herself loose in the box and fired a shot into the net to tie the game.
“It’s been an issue for us all year – we score a goal and it seems like we relax,” Cranston West coach Nick Ruggieri said. “We don’t keep the intensity up.”
On the other side, intensity was way up as the Titans started to flex their muscles.
“They played unbelievable today, everybody,” Razza said. “Players stepped it up today to where I was saying, ‘Alright, where was that the first seven games?’ Unbelievable performance.”
Jordan Inkley led a strong defensive effort for the Titans, while Laura McGuire, Grace McGrath, Kathleen Morlock and Haley Rouleau controlled the midfield and teamed with forward Courtney Crowley to create chances.
McNulty did the rest. After her two early goals, she notched the hat trick when she powered through a pair of defenders for a goal in the 34th minute.
“I knew that she had it in her,” Razza said. “I knew she would never play JV. She’s done it every game and today it just flowed. To see the girls put it on her foot and know she’s going to get the job done is great.”
The Falcons generated some chances late in the first half and early in the second half, but it looked like they might run out of time.
Instead, in the 73rd minute, Eleni Grammas got loose on a run and forced the Titans to kick the ball over the end line, setting up a corner kick. Julia White took it and placed the ball into the middle of the box. It bounced around before West’s Jenna Palmer got her foot on it and tipped it into the net to tie the game.
But one more time, the Titans had an answer.
Toll Gate pressured immediately on the ensuing possession and Rouleau hit a shot just wide. On the West goal kick, the Titans won the ball and played it ahead to McNulty. Open from 30 yards out, she turned and lofted a shot over the head of West keeper Olivia Idowu for a stunning goal.
“To see them come back at the end – I’ve never seen that before,” Razza said. “They just came right down the field.”
It was part of the mindset that carried them all game.
“We have to score,” McNulty said of what she was thinking after the West goal. “We weren’t going to lose this game.”
The Falcons delivered some pressure over the final six minutes but came up empty. Caruso’s high-arcing shot in the 78th minute was the best chance, but Toll Gate goalie Amber Francois corralled the bounce and the Titans held on.
“It’s exciting,” McNulty said. “I just tried to play my hardest. We haven’t had many wins, so I tried my best – 110 percent.”
And on this day, the Titans’ best was good enough for a much-needed victory.
“The girls saw their teammates stepping up and it motivated everybody,” Razza said. “It was like the flu but it was a good flu.”
The Titans hope it carries into tonight’s game against Smithfield. The Sentinels, who are 4-3-1, will host the Titans at 7 p.m.