MILFORD — Seeking its first Henlopen Conference championship in two years, the Caesar Rodney girls’ soccer team knew it would have to earn the title without injured senior star Alexa Faulmino.
Fortunately for the North champion Riders in Thursday night’s title game versus South representative Indian River played at Milford High, senior Jay Moore did a great impression of her teammate. Right down to the jersey number.
In the 49th minute, Moore found a soft spot on the left side of the Indians’ defense about 25 yards from goal and netted what proved to be the game-winning score over keeper Fabrea McCray’s outstretched arms.
The Riders (14-1-1), who would add their final goal off Aleya Cummings’ right foot in the 58th minute before IR (13-3) got on the board, went on to win the Henlopen Conference Championship game 3-1.
“I was practicing the day before on open shots like that and I couldn’t get it,” said Moore, who forgot her jersey and had to wear Faulmino’s No. 15. “But today the first time I just got it. It just comes naturally sometimes.
“We wanted to win this really bad,” added Moore of the Riders, who were bested by Sussex Tech the previous two seasons in the Northern Division race. “We’re playing for her (Faulmino), but we’re playing all together as one too.”
A combination of McCray, who finished the game with 10 saves, and some bad Riders’ luck kept the score close in the opening half. Multiple CR shots narrowly missed finding the net in the first 40 minutes, including four that went off the crossbar.
Caesar Rodney did manage to get a shot by McCray before halftime though when one of those attempts off the crossbar ricochet out to Cummings in traffic. Cummings was able to pass it to teammate Lynsy Gruwell, who made the score 1-0 nearly 21 minutes into the match.
“Snake-bitten,” CR coach Darell Gravatt said, adding he told the Riders during the break that eventually more goals would come. “Keep shooting. When you get this many chances, they’re not all going to miss. We felt like we were playing well, it just didn’t break our way at first.
“It’s great to win the conference,” Gravatt continued. “The girls wanted it real bad and they earned it. I’m proud of them. It’s a testament to these girls that we can lose our best player and still win the conference.”
Although the Riders were able to score twice as many goals in the second half as they did in the first, IR coach Steve Kilby said his team also played much better as the game progressed.
While last year’s conference champion didn’t score until the 75th minute when junior Brooke Beam drove home a penalty kick, four of the Indians’ five shots on goal came in the second half.
“We played hard in the second 40 minutes,” said Kilby, whose team as the No. 3 seed will begin play in the Division II state tournament quarterfinals next week. “We linked passes and created opportunities. I’m thrilled they didn’t quit. They’re probably not going to see a team this good the rest of the year. If they take that attitude, approach and desire, the sky’s the limit.”
Conference championship in tow, CR will now turn its attention to the Division I tourney where the Riders are a No. 2 seed and face No. 7 Newark next week in their quarterfinals opener.
“We haven’t seen Newark this year, but we’re looking forward to playing them,” Gravatt said. “Our girls will enjoy this (conference championship) but we’ll be ready.”
Sussex County Post sports editor Jeff Mitchell can be reached at 629-5505 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SDelSports.