DOVER — Saint Mark’s girls soccer team had gone through the 2021 season undefeated, but the Caravel Buccaneers figured out how to stop the high-powered Spartans offense. The Bucs, the top seed in the 12-team postseason field, took the action to the No. 2 Spartans and scored the first three goals of the night, then survived a Saint Mark’s comeback attempt in the final 15 minutes to take the DIAA Division II state championship, 3-2, on June 1 at Dover High School.
The Spartans had gotten a lot of scoring this year from Alyssa Ruggeri and Maddie Schepers, but the Buccaneers kept extra defenders back to smother Ruggeri, and they aggressively challenged Schepers and the other Spartans at midfield. Caravel attacked relentlessly and capitalized on some Saint Mark’s errors to win their sixth state championship.
On offense, Caravel’s Anaya Price and Caitlin St. Leger seemed to spend most of the first half in the 18-yard box in front of Spartans keeper Marissa Cirillo. They kept the pressure on the Spartans’ defense, as the Bucs continually prevented their opponent from getting too far past midfield. Cirillo was tested early, coming up with a save in the second minute, and Price rang a shot off a post in the 13th.
After a few more chances, the Bucs found success. In the 27th minute, Price got the ball in front of the net. She deked around a defender and sent a left-footed shot that handcuffed Cirillo and rolled in for the 1-0 lead.
Saint Mark’s, seeking its first title since 2008, had a few chances in the first half, and just after Price scored, a Spartan shot hit off the football crossbar above Buccaneers keeper Riley Pinato. Pinato also stopped a long shot from near midfield from Katie Lennon.
Caravel doubled its lead in the 33rd. A throw-in by Gabby Marte bounced in the crease in front of Cirillo, where Price and a few Spartans battled for control. St. Leger came in behind those players and sent an eight-yard shot high into the net.
The Spartans came out with some offensive pressure after halftime, but Caravel reverted to form. They just missed a third goal when a shot went just above the crossbar in the 64th, but on the ensuing goal kick, St. Leger intercepted the ball about 35 yards from the net. She dribbled in another few steps and fired a seed high into the far side.
Although the lead seemed safe when it was 2-0, that third marker proved to be very necessary. Saint Mark’s best chances had come on free kicks and corner kicks, and they finally got on the board in the 69th minute on a corner. Schepers’ inbound was headed and saved by a diving Pinato, but Kaileigh Brady was there to pound the rebound into the back of the net to make it 3-1.
Caravel hit a crossbar in the 74th, keeping the Spartans’ hopes alive. Ruggeri blasted one off Pinato’s hands two minutes later, but the ball stayed out of the net. In the final minute, Brady struck again. This time, the sophomore connected from about 17 yards out over a diving Pinato after a free kick by Schepers.
The Spartans desperately tried to tie the game in the final minute, but the Buccaneers kept the ball deep in Saint Mark’s end. After a final throw-in was stolen by the Bucs, the referee’s whistle blew three times, signaling the end of the soccer season.
Caravel outshot the Spartans, 11-8, although all three of the game’s corner kicks belonged to Saint Mark’s. Pinato had six saves. The Bucs finished the season 15-1.
Cirillo had five saves for the Spartans. They ended the season with a record of 17-1.
All photos by Mike Lang.