Lonati saves penalty and draw for Franklin against OA

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Dani Lonati saves a last minute penalty to preserve a draw between the two defending Hockomock champions. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)
By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – The Franklin fans were stunned that it had come down to this. The Panthers had hit the bar and had a ball cleared off the line in the second half, but a goal off a corner tied the game and now sophomore Francesca Calabraro had the opportunity from the spot to earn Oliver Ames an unlikely road win at Pisini Field.
The only thing standing in the way was goalie Dani Lonati. The junior keeper guessed the right way, diving to her right side, and was able to hold the penalty and preserve a 1-1 tie for the league favorites in the opening game for both teams.
“We practice those every day,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen after the game. “I don’t know how she felt inside, but she should’ve felt comfortable with the situation that she was facing. That’s what I would expect from her; she’s a good keeper.”
OA coach Britt Sellmayer, referencing the team’s defeat on penalties in last year’s tournament, joked, “I guess we need to start practicing those more.
He added, “[Francesca] played a great game and I’m happy with where we started and where we’re going…I think we’ll be good down the road down…but to play is Franklin is getting thrown in the fire in the first game.”
It was the young Tigers that started the game better. OA was closing down quickly in the midfield and its pace was putting pressure on the Franklin back line, but senior defender Nicole Ellin and Lonati helped clear most attacks before a shot could be taken.
Midway through the first half, Franklin started to assert control in the midfield with Victoria Stowell and Jane Scafati combining with Taylor Cogliano to create openings and Alexis Stowell started to find space out wide. It was Alexis Stowell that had the majority of chances in the first half cutting in from the left but one shot was blocked, another saved, and a half-volley was hit into the side netting.
With 15 minutes left to halftime, the Panthers found the breakthrough. Victoria Stowell picked out Cogliano in the box and the senior (and reigning HockomockSports.com Player of the Year) was able to slot it home past freshman keeper Regan Benton to make it 1-0.
After halftime, Franklin turned up the pressure and started to dominate possession. OA was struggling to get the ball forward to sophomore forward Kiana Lozzi and the Panthers were starting to find space for Alexis Stowell to cut in behind the right back.
Stowell had a great chance just eight minutes after the break but her shot cannoned off the bar. Ten minutes later, Cogliano made a driving run through the midfield but her shot was straight at Benton. Several other chances ended with shots getting blocked or sent wide of the net.
Geysen said, “You get inside the box and you need to have composure and we didn’t have that today. Several times Taylor crossed it and there was nobody on the far side making that diagonal run and it was there or if they made the run then it was miskicked it or couldn’t get a foot on it.”
Sellmayer credited the strength of the Panthers for causing his young roster problems and forcing the ball to be played too quickly to the front.
He explained, “[Kiana’s] such a good player but she was lonely. We panicked in the midfield a little too much today. They’re a great team. Their possession is so good, they’re so experienced, and they’re so strong.”
Those missed chances would come back to haunt the Panthers in the 64th minute. A long ball was cleared out for a corner and the ball came to the back post where Olivia Milieka hit it towards goal and sophomore Julia Roy was on hand to deflect it past Lonati for the equalizer.
“That’s what we we’re hoping for,” said Sellmayer. “We have things that we emphasize and that’s one of them is our restarts.”
Geysen said, “We knew from the get-go that they were going to play the ball long, run at you, and try to make you make a mistake in your own half. On the corner kick, I told the kids that if you’re on the weak side and the girl makes a face-cut then you need to keep her on your back and it didn’t happen.”
The Tigers grabbed the momentum after the goal. But, with just four minutes remaining, it looked like Franklin was going to steal the two points when junior forward Megan Georges, who was in the lineup because of an injury to Bailey Knous, snuck in behind the defense and flicked her shot by Benton, only to see it cleared off the line by an OA defender. Shortly after, Emily Spath had a pair of chances saved at the far post.
Two minutes later and it was the Tigers chance to take the win. Lindsey Mastaj was judged to have pulled down Lozzi in the penalty area and Calabraro had the chance to finish the upset from the spot. Lonati kept her nerve and made the save and the two defending Hockomock champions both had to settle for a point.
Sellmayer, who highlighted the player of seniors Darra Mclaughlin and Molly Donavan, was the happier of the two coaches at full-time.
“I’m playing a lot of young kids and kids that were getting their first chance and I was thinking don’t get crushed,” he said. “We didn’t come in with the pressure today — they’ve got the pressure. They’re definitely the team to beat, but I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Geysen knows that there is a long way to go this season and sees room for improvement.
“We had plenty of chances but if you don’t finish then you put yourself in a position that we could’ve just as easily lost that game as tied it. Those things are going to happen and hopefully we learn from them. There are a lot of things that we need to do better as a team.”
Oliver Ames will host Taunton on Tuesday afternoon. Franklin will travel to Foxboro, also on Tuesday.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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