It may have seemed a long shot three weeks ago, but the Wilton High girls lacrosse team will be playing in the Class L state championship game this Saturday.
The Warriors scored their third convincing win of the state playoffs on Tuesday night, pulling away from Greenwich for a 14-8 win in the semifinals at Brien McMahon High School.
Considering the competition — FCIAC rival Greenwich was the second seed and also playing some of its best lacrosse of the season — it may have been Wilton’s most complete game yet.
“They’re playing with confidence and a lot of composure and that’s what it takes to go this far in the tournament,” said head coach Meredith Meyran. “These girls have battled so much adversity with all the injuries we’ve had this year, and they keep battling back, so I’m really proud of them.”
It marks the ninth time in the last 14 seasons Wilton has reached the state finals — and fifth time in the last six seasons.
The 11th-seeded Warriors (14-6) will take on fourth-seeded Darien (19-3) in the Class L finals at Jonathan Law High School in Milford on Saturday. Darien beat New Canaan in Tuesday’s other semifinal, 20-10. The time of the game is yet to be announced.
The balanced Wilton offense got four goals from Sophie Sudano, three goals each from Margaret Smith, Ellie Armstrong and Rebecca Wistreich, and one goal from Julia Bonnist.
Wistreich also had three assists, with single helpers from Armstrong, Smith and Bonnist.
For a team that went into the state tourney having lost four of six games, the march to the state finals has been a remarkable turnaround.
“I’m really proud of them today. It started in our first state game against Glastonbury and our attack just came out absolutely executing, ready to play, making great decisions,” said coach Meyran, who lauded her team’s patience on offense. “We’re not forcing anything and if it’s not there they’re not taking it and they’re really setting each other up and waiting for the best percentage shot that they can get. And it’s made a huge difference for us.”
It was the third game in a row where a different player led the team in scoring, with Smith tallying five goals in the first-round win over Glastonbury and Wistreich scoring five goals in the quarterfinal win over Cheshire.
Sudano, a talented freshman who only got into the starting lineup late in the season, has emerged in the state playoffs as a lethal weapon for Wilton with 11 goals in three games.
On Tuesday, she was a difference-maker, with her team-high four goals, fives draw controls and four ground balls. She made a big impact early in the game, with three unassisted goals and several draws to stake the Warriors to a 6-4 halftime lead.
“Sophie wasn’t even playing at the beginning of the season. It’s a testament to her hard work. She’s been getting better and better, and game after game she’s making improvements,” said Meyran.
“I think that in practice I’ve just been building it up and I got called in at the end of the season, and whenever I got onto the field I tried to prove myself,” said Sudano, who didn’t even get onto the field in Wilton’s 8-7 win over Greenwich on April 13.
Since then, however, the Warriors lost all-American attacker Eva Greco to a season-ending injury, and just recently lost starting midfielder and faceoff specialist Julia Skillin to an injury.
Despite the loss of Skillin, the Wilton trio of Wistreich, Sudano and Sydney Brant again held their own, with 10 draws.
On the other end, goaltender Paige Brown again was stellar in goal, as she made 14 saves in another remarkable performance. Brown had made 44 saves in three state playoff games.
“She played out of her mind — and we needed her to,” said Meyran.
Greenwich took the initial 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the game on a goal by Maggie O’Gorman. Sudano got Wilton on the board nine minutes later to make it 1-1 with 14:02 left in the half, and Armstrong’s unassisted goal make it 2-1 just 20 seconds later.
After an extremely long Wilton possession, the Warriors went up 3-1 with 7:37 left in the half on a spin move and shot by Sudano, and then scored again 42 seconds later, with Smith scoring on a cut down the middle, off a pass from Wistreich, to make it 4-1.
Greenwich rallied with three goals in a span of 1:22 — by Genevieve DeWinter, Paige Finneran and Erika Bloes — to tie the game up at 4-4 with 4:34 left
Smith answered just 19 seconds later to put Wilton up for good, 5-4, and Sudano scored on another strong run with 2:12 left to make it 6-4. The lead remained 6-4 at the half, with Brown making three saves in the final two minutes.
Sudano scored her fourth goal early in the second half, on another burst to the goal, to extend the lead to 7-4, but Greenwich came right back when DeWinter scored on a free position to make it 7-5 with 23:47 left to play.
What followed proved to be the game — a 5-0 run over the next 19-plus minutes as the Warriors build a 12-5 lead with 4:15 left to play. The first goal came just 13 seconds after the Greenwich goal, as Armstrong scored in front off a pass from Wistreich.
Smith made it 9-5 at 21:40, scoring from in front off a feed from Armstrong for her ninth goal in three state playoff games. Wistreich scored at 19:31 off a perfect feed from the side by Smith, making it 10-5.
Both goalies came up with saves over the next 13 minutes, before Wilton made it 11-5 with 6:31 left when Armstrong came from behind the cage to score. Wistreich then made it 12-5 with 4:15 left on an assist from Bonnist.
The Cardinals tallied three goals in the final four minutes, but the Wilton defense was able to hold an opponent to under 10 goals for the third time in three state playoff games.
In addition to Brown in goal, an outstanding defensive effort featured Ally DiSanto, Zoe Lash, Emmy Goodwin and Sarah Hinck, along with midfielders Sydney Brant, Carly Sullivan and Wistreich.
DeWinter and Finneran each had three goals to lead Greenwich, with other goals by O’Gorman and Bloes. Sloane Loveless finished with 12 saves in goal.
“We just didn’t play our game today, unfortunately. We’ve been playing our best lacrosse up until this point. Across the board we didn’t execute what we had practiced, and unfortunately they capitalized on their possessions,” said Greenwich head coach Caitlin Copelan, whose team finished at 15-4.
“This group is a special group. Obviously we wish we were continuing to play. We had four great seniors. We have a lot of great young players,” she continued. “They really turned the corner after we lost in FCIACs and did a really good job in terms of prepping for states, so they have a lot of positives to take from season, which is great. Unfortunately they just didn’t seal the deal today.”
Notes: Wistreich had four draws, three groundballs and two caused turnovers for Wilton, while Brant had four groundballs and one draw. Goodwin had two caused turnovers and one groundball, and Smith had one groundball and one caused turnovers. Lash also had a caused turnover.