LEOMINSTER -- Slow starts have plagued the North Middlesex Regional girls' soccer team. The Patriots finally got off on the right foot Thursday, as freshman forward Julia Sheehan scored her first of two goals a mere 29 seconds into the game to lead the visitors to a 3-1 Midland League A victory over Leominster at Doyle Field.
"We did not come out flat tonight," said North Middlesex coach Charlie Valacer, whose team got to .500 at 3-3 overall and 1-0 in the league. "We've not had good starts, and that's something that we've been working on. I was glad to see the girls come out fired up because the first goal is pretty important.
"All in all, the girls have been working hard as of late and it paid off."
Leominster (2-4, 0-1) quickly fell behind. In the first minute of play, Sheehan got her foot on a 20-yard blast that curled past freshman keeper Lexi Foster and into the net.
"That was a miscommunication," Leominster senior captain Jennifer Bergeron said. "It was tough because it gets you down. We got nervous and we had to overcome that."
Emily Valacer assisted on North Middlesex's ultra-quick goal.
North Middlesex kept the pressure on in the offensive end. Emily Herrick ripped a shot just over the crossbar, and Sheehan was robbed on a great save by Foster in the sixth minute.
Leominster countered six minutes later for the equalizer.
Speedster Sophie Derry, a freshman, made a great pass to spring junior captain Quinn O'Connell on a rush on the right wing. O'Connell knew how to finish, too, as the junior hammered a beautiful shot that zipped over the outstretched hands of freshman goalie Olivia Cappucci -- filling in for the injured Julia Murray -- and into the corner of the net.
O'Connell's goal came on Leominster's first shot of the game.
But North Middlesex seized command in the 21st minute for a 2-1 advantage.
Junior Lauren Sheehan flicked a pass over a Leominster defender and to senior captain Kim Morgan, who walked in all alone and beat the keeper to the far post.
The Pats looked for more late in the first half, but Foster delivered again with a great diving save to deny Lauren Sheehan.
"She's phenomenal," Bergeron said about her keeper. "I call her our savior. Lexi Foster is our savior. It's hard to describe her, other than perfect."
With under two minutes to play in the half, Cappucci punched away a bid by O'Connell to tie the game.
Sophomore Emma Patten had Leominster's lone shot on goal in the second half. Leominster's Alexandra Maldonado just missed a goal, firing over the crossbar off a corner kick, and Patten also shot high on a header with less than nine minutes left in the game.
North Middlesex's defense, anchored by senior captain and sweeper Alyssa Robinson, bottled up Leominster's attack in the second half and refused to give up the game-tying tally.
"They collapsed in and they would take the ball from us," Bergeron said. "We had to somehow get it wide and get it out and spread the field. They weren't really allowing that, but we tried our best."
Julia Sheehan potted her second goal in the 59th minute, beating Foster to the ball and popping it past the Leominster keeper.
Sophomore Erin Stephenson played a solid game for the Blue Devils on defense.
Leominster head coach Elizabeth Lane -- a second-grade teacher at Southeast Elementary School -- coached the first half of the game, but had to leave at halftime to attend an open house for her students' parents.
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