CR scores but mighty Padua wins 5th straight D-I soccer title 4-1

SMYRNA — Caitlin Harris wasn’t really trying to score on the play.

The Caesar Rodney High senior was a good 35 yards away from the Padua goal when she corralled the loose ball.

“I said ‘What the heck, I might as well shoot it,’” said Harris. “It was a lucky shot.”

Indeed, the long-range shot somehow found its way just under the crossbar and over the out-stretched arms of Pandas goalie Abigail Boudart.

Considering it was only the second goal that nationally-ranked Padua had allowed all season — and the first by a Delaware school — it was a pretty cool moment for the Riders. Unfortunately for CR, though, there weren’t very many other ones.

While the fluke goal made things interesting for a few minutes, top-seeded Padua still rolled to a 4-1 victory over the No. 2 Riders in the DIAA Division I girls’ soccer state championship game on Friday night at Charles Williams Stadium.

The state crown was the fifth in a row and eighth overall for the Pandas (18-0), who are ranked No. 3 in the country. It was the third straight year that Padua has beaten CR (17-2) in the finals.

The Riders, whose only two losses this season came against Padua, are now 0-6 all-time in state championship games.

But when Harris scored her unexpected goal, CR somehow trailed just 2-1 with 21 minutes still remaining. The goal seemed to spark the Riders, who mounted some more pressure in the next few minutes.

“We definitely stepped it up after that,” said Harris. “It definitely gave us more energy. We left our hearts out there and we played our best. That’s all we can ask.”

“We needed something to change the momentum and that goal did it,” said CR coach Darrell Gravatt. “We were on them for a while after that.”

Ultimately, though, the Pandas were just too good.

A goal from Anne Brush with 8:44 left followed by a goal from Ashlee Brentlinger in the final two minutes sealed the title for Padua and stretched a number of impressive streaks for the all-girls Wilmington Catholic school.

The Pandas are unbeaten in their last 41 games overall, have won 17 straight state tournament contests and have won seven in a row over CR,

The Riders didn’t get off a shot until the second half, when they already trailed 2-0. Padua finished with decisive advantages of 17-2 in shots and 11-2 in corner kicks.

Still, CR’s players were proud of their effort.

“We’ve come so far this season,” said junior goalie Marianna Nuzzo. “I think everyone didn’t expect much from us this season but we really worked hard. Even after all our injuries, we stepped it up.

“I’ve never been more proud to be part of a team. I think more than any other year, we really came in (to Friday’s game) with a positive attitude.”

Nuzzo helped keep CR in the game as she finished with eight saves in the contest, including a couple stops from close range.

“She’s a great keeper and always has been,” said Gravatt. “I think sometimes she gets overlooked because she doesn’t have to make a lot of saves in some of the games we play in the regular season. But when she does have to make a save, she makes them.”

Padua got the game’s first goal with just under 17 minutes left in the first half.

The Pandas’ Sarah Brush fired a free kick from 26 yards out. The ball cleared CR’s defensive wall and then sailed over Nuzzo’s head.

Padua added to that advantage in the final five minutes of the half when Megan Mallon headed a nice crossing pass cleanly into the goal.

While the Pandas led only 2-0 at intermission, they totally dominated the opening 40 minutes, outshooting the Riders, 10-0 and holding a 7-0 edge in corner kicks.

Even though Padua was too much for them again on Friday, the Riders say they’ll keep working to get another chance at a state crown next spring.

“They have a lot of talent, all in the same place,” Gravatt said about Padua. “We have a lot of talent, too.

“It’s always nice to play in the finals and somebody’s got to lose. But, if we lose, let it to be to a great team — and I think Padua is a great team.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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