Saunders scores four goals as Thomaston girls soccer ousts Shepaug in Class S tournament

Thomaston sophomore Claire Saunders celebrated her first state tournament game with four goals in a Class S first-round win over Shepaug at Thomaston’s Nystrom Park Monday afternoon.

Thomaston sophomore Claire Saunders celebrated her first state tournament game with four goals in a Class S first-round win over Shepaug at Thomaston’s Nystrom Park Monday afternoon.

Peter Wallace / For Hearst Connecticut Media

THOMASTON — Thomaston sophomore Claire Saunders led the Golden Bears to significant marks in their 7-2 Class S first-round win over Shepaug Monday afternoon at Thomaston’s Nystrom Park.

Individually, Saunders’ four goals pushed the Berkshire League’s leading scorer to what school officials believe is a school record for a sophomore (41).

Collectively, the 10th-ranked Bears (12-4-1), in a long steep girls soccer decline before the arrival of third-year coach Jen Ewart, reached a state tournament second round for the first time in recent memory after qualifying in Ewart’s first year as well as last year’s COVID-mandated regional tournament.

Now, Saunders leads a host of sophomore and freshman teammates with a groundswell of talent and cohesion.

“We definitely wanted it today,” said sophomore Katie Guerin, assisting Saunders in two goals, then scoring one of her own.

“We all played together in the Thomaston Youth Soccer League since second grade,” said Saunders.

“It helped build us up when most of us started playing club soccer,” added Geurin.

Meanwhile, Shepaug, ranked 23rd (7-10), earned a significant mark of its own just being on the field.

“We started with 11 players and we’re up to 14 now,” said Coach Tara Flaherty. “We’re the smallest school in Class S and the team has improved a tremendous amount since the start of the season.”

Following two regular-season losses to Thomaston, Shepaug’s improvement showed in the first 10 minutes Monday.

The Spartans consistently pushed the ball. In the 10th minute, their aggression paid off with a pass from Sophie Tibbats to co-captain Marissa Perachi.

“There’s a different energy in the first round,” said Thomaston coach Ewart.

Perachi drove past advancing goalkeeper Kara Sacco for the game’s first goal.

Seconds later, the energy shifted to Thomaston with a pass from Guerin to Saunders close to the Spartan net for a 1-1 tie.

Three minutes later, a long pass, Guerin to Saunders, ended in another Golden Bears goal into the far side of the net.

At 2-1, the Spartans visibly slumped and the Golden Bears took off.

Midway through the half, Thomaston drives were relentless, slamming passes off Spartan defenders, picking them back up and rolling toward the Shepaug goal.

In the 25th minute, freshman Sophia Coer played a ball off a Spartan defender into the goal, then, four minutes later, slipped a pass through for Saunders’ hat trick.

Trailing 4-1 at the start of the second half, the Spartans looked revived.

A pass from Saunders to Haley Bethin burst the energy balloon again, 5-1, 16 minutes into the half.

A minute later, Shepaug’s Perachi brought another bright spot to Spartan fans with a 30-yard direct-kick goal, but the game was out of reach and the Bears continued to roll.

Eight minutes from the final horn, Guerin popped in a 10-yard score on a pass from Coer.

Saunders worked her way up from midfield with 18 seconds left for the final goal and her turkey.

The Bears meet another BL opponent in Wednesday’s second round, at Litchfield’s Plumb Hill Field. The No. 7 Cowgirls (13-3-1) blasted No. 26 Civic Leadership 9-0 in their first-round game.

In the BL regular season, Thomaston and Litchfield tied 2-2 in their first game. Thomaston won 3-1 in the second.

No. 10 Thomaston 7,

No. 23 Shepaug Valley 2

At Nystrom Park, Thomaston

Shepaug 1 1 — 2

Thomaston 4 3 — 7

Goals: S — Marissa Perachi 2. T — Claire Saunders 4; Sophia Coer; Haley Bethin; Katelyn Guerin. Assists: S — Sophie Tibbats. T — Guerin 2; Coer 2; Saunders. Shots: 19-8 Thomaston. Saves: S — Madison Douskey 12. T — Kara Sacco 6.

Records: Shepaug Valley 7-10. Thomaston 12-4-1.