Conforti scores in OT to lift Dons

NEW CUMBERLAND – What started as one of the coldest games she ever played in ended with a moment that she’ll never forget.

Madonna’s Christina Conforti netted a game-winning goal in the third minute of an overtime period against Wheeling Park in a Class AA-A sectional semifinal on Tuesday. The Blue Dons beat the Knights, 2-1, and swept a three-game season series with Wheeling Central.

“It was insane,” Conforti said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all but I knew we had to win.”

Conforti may think she was just at the right place at the right time, but the impeccable timing was the result of 40-plus minutes of hard work and a never-say-die attitude.

“You just have to stay calm and hope for the best,” the senior midfielder said. “When you play 100-percent, good things can end up happening.”

Rachel Grubbs dribbled upfield and took a shot from 35 yards away for the Blue Dons’ first scoring opportunity of the overtime session. It bounced off Central goaltender Regan Blaha and caromed to a charging Conforti.

“I didn’t think it was going to bounce off the keeper,” Grubbs said. “I’m thankful that my teammate was there to back me up.”

A golden opportunity like that doesn’t come around on many possessions and Madonna coach Bob Kolanko cherishes any chance where his team can pose a legitimate threat. The Blue Dons design drills in practice and pregame warmups for off-ball attacks.

“The biggest thing is, you have to attack the goalie,” Kolanko said. “You have to want it. It’s a desire that a player has to have to say I’m going to goal.

“I’m just so happy for the girls and Christina Conforti’s been working so hard all year. She’s had so many chances. For her to finish up like that, I’m very proud of her. She pulled it off very well.”

Grubbs put Madonna (11-8) on the board at the 31:03 mark of the first half with a hooking shot from 25 yards out. Cate Calisse answered for the Knights at the 32:12 mark of the second half. After time was stopped for an injured Wheeling Central player, the Knights earned an indirect free kick, which Calisse took on the 25-yard line in the Blue Dons’ zone.

It sailed over the head of goaltender Tessie Tokash and into the back-right corner of the net.

“The girls executed it perfectly,” said Central coach David Cross. “It was a nice kick and shot.”

In the two previous meeting this year with these teams, the Blue Dons won, 3-2, each time. The Knights end the year with a 12-8 record after going 18-3 in 2012 and 13-7 in 2011.

“We’ve won over 40 games for the past three seasons,” Cross said. It was a great group of seniors who are great players and we’re going to miss them next year.”

Maria Olson, Ashton Cross, Olivia Gazzola and Clark graduate for Central.

The Knights took seven shots on goal, with three corner kicks. The Blue Dons collected 11 shots on goal with six corner kicks.

As the sun set over Oak Glen Stadium, the lights came on and temperatures dropped to the mid-30s. Many girls bundled up with spandex tights, Under Armour sleeves, ear muffs and gloves, but Madonna players Alayna Macaluso, Leanne Grubbs, Dekota McCombs, Ericka Fonner, Gaby Kotten and Conforti dressed like it was an early-season game played in mid-August.

“It was freezing,” said a bare-armed Conforti. “But I can’t wear sleeves because they make me too warm.”

Kolanko anticipated for most of his starters to play the entire game.

“They’re fine,” he said. “When you’re out there running and playing, you’re warm. I told them all to not put the Under Armour on because you’re going to be running and burn up. Most of them were going to play 60 or 70 minutes, so their hands may have gotten a little chilly.”

The Knights took control of the overtime period with two shots on goal in the first minute and a half. Calisse had a free kick opportunity in the second minute that sailed five inches above the crossbar.

“They wanted it bad,” Rachel Grubbs said. “They put up good competition. We were ready for it. The coaches told us to keep going to the ball. There’s nothing we could do that we hadn’t done in the first 40 minutes.”

Madonna plays the winner of Oak Glen-Weir at 2 p.m. on Saturday.