By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Addisen Antonucci is much too young to understand how much long-distance calls cost once upon a time. But early in the second half of Holy Spirit’s “Senior Night” game under the lights against Absegami, Antonucci dialed up a shot from long distance — and it was costly for the visiting Braves.
In the 49th minute, Antonucci took a direct kick from about 25 yards out and lofted a perfect shot over the outstretched arms of Absegami keeper Delaney Sabath. The Spartans made the goal count by withstanding a barrage of Braves shots later in the second half, and escaped with a 1-0 win in perhaps their most competitive game all season.
“We practiced those shots last week, so I was pretty confident. My sister (Paxton) and I had been switching up taking those kinds of shots in practice, but she was out in the second half, so I decided to take it. I didn’t think it was going to go on. I thought it was going to go over the net. I’m so happy it went in,” Antonucci said. “Most of my goals aren’t anywhere near inside the box.”
“We’ve always been dangerous off set pieces, corners and direct kicks, we’ve had a lot of goals off them,” said Holy Spirit coach Alicia Downey. “For Addison, who probably takes probably 10 shots a game and probably doesn’t get as many goals as we’d like her to, for her to get a goal like that against Absegami is great. We didn’t get many opportunities, and what I told the girls at halftime was that we had to take advantage of any opportunities we get.”
Neither team had much success offensively in the first half, but after Antonucci’s tally the pace picked up considerably. For about a 15-minute stretch, Absegami (7-6-1) threw everything it had at Holy Spirit (12-3), and Spartans sophomore keeper Bailey Harris picked a good time to have her best game of the season. She came up with some big-time saves, including one on a point-blank shot from Courtney Gaston, and was helped out by the woodwork on the Braves’ best scoring chance.
Lanie Baldino ripped a shot off a direct kick on the left, just outside the 18, and the ball ricocheted off the crossbar and was cleared.
“I got so lucky with that. I have to thank the crossbar for that one,” Harris said. “We knew coming in that we’d have to go super hard to put it away, and I think we did really well. After we scored, we were on a high and we needed to come down off that and play safe, and play smart. I’m so happy we got the shutout.”
Harris got plenty of help from her defense, led by fellow sophomore Megan McCully, but her effort between the pipes was spectacular.
“That’s the best game Bailey has played. She transferred from OLMA and is just a sophomore,” Downey said. “It’s been a little rocky for her this season, but this was by far the best game she’s had. It’s been a little up and down this season, but for Bailey to start peaking now is really a good thing to see. It’s very good timing.”
Absegami made several runs late in the second half from players such as Baldino, Gaston, Rylee Getter and Allie Tierney, but couldn’t break through.
The win was big for Spirit, which plays in the small-school United Conference in the Cape-Atlantic League and doesn’t get much of an opportunity to step up and play teams from the American and National conferences.
“It’s awesome that we’re able to step up and beat teams like this. We want to get prepared and face better teams so that we can make it as far as we can in the playoffs,” Harris said.
“We’re ready for (the better teams). We played three other good teams this year and we lost, but we definitely stepped up tonight,” said Antonucci, referring to losses against Middle Township, Ocean City and Cedar Creek. “We knew we had to play really well tonight, and that’s exactly what we did.”
“This is probably our first really big win. OLMA is always a big win, and Buena was a big win, but I’d say against Absegami — they are always such a great team and it’s always great when we can get a win against them,” added Downey. “This was a very good win for us going forward. I’ve had these seniors since they were freshmen and they are such a good group of girls. For us to get a win on their Senior Night is great.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays