Epke leads No. 1 Guilford to third straight Class M final

Guilford field hockey player Maddie Epke.

Guilford field hockey player Maddie Epke.

Dan Nowak / Hearst Connecticut Media

WOODBRIDGE — Guilford dominated possession most of the game, Maddie Epke had a goal and three assists and MJ Santa Barbara scored twice to lead No. 1 Guilford to a 6-0 win over No. 4 Pomperaug in a Class M semifinal game at Amity High on Tuesday.

Guilford advances to the championship game on Saturday against No. 2 Wethersfield at Wethersfield High at a time to be announced.

Guilford (21-1) will try to win its third straight Class M title.

“We had a lot of shots, but their goalie (Katherine O’Leary) was good and she was tough,” Guilford coach Kitty Palmer said. “Maddie played a great game, built up our transition in the midfield and the forwards fed off her. We’re going back to the final for a third time and Maddie has been a big part of all three.

“One difference this year than the past two years we won a state title is our depth. Last year during the pandemic in the limited season we had I was able to play a lot of girls and now they have a lot of experience.”

Guilford outshot Pomperaug 20-2 and the shots came early and often.

In the first quarter, the Grizzlies took the first three shots of the game and the third was the charm off a penalty corner. With a scramble for the ball near the left post, Epke scored to give Guilford a 1-0 lead with 8:50 to go.

In the second quarter, Guilford continued possessing the ball and took three quality shots early with one going wide, one blocked by the Panthers defense and another saved by O’Leary. The pressure continued and with 2:13 left in the first half Santa Barbara scored her first goal for a 2-0 lead.

The Grizzlies wasted no time padding their lead in the third quarter when Ella Clarke scored off a pass from Epke 27 seconds into the second half for a 3-0 lead.

“We worked hard for this opportunity to get back to the Class M final,” said Epke, who has committed to James Madison to play lacrosse. “It’s not just one girl on this team, it’s our depth and the whole team contributes. What has got us to this point is we take things one game at a time and just focus on the next game coming up.

“It’s so exciting to get back to the final and now we have a chance to go 3-for-3.”

Payton Root gave the Grizzlies a 4-0 lead with 3:23 to go in the third quarter off a redirected shot. Santa Barbara scored with 9:03 to go in the fourth quarter and Kim Evans provided the 6-0 final with a goal with 6:08 to go in the game.

O’Leary ended up with 15 saves to keep the game a lot closer than what it could have been.

“Guilford is a talented team, top to bottom,” Pomperaug coach Anne Strobel said. “They are a well-disciplined team and Maddie Epke is phenomenal. And their team isn’t just about her. They have so many talented players you can’t just focus on one or two.

“We had a good season and it’s been a long time since Pomperaug advanced this far in the tournament. Our goalie played a great game and the great thing for us is she comes back next year.”

Pomperaug finishes the season 15-4-0-2.


(at Woodbridge)

POMPERAUG 0 0 0 0 — 0

GUILFORD 1 1 2 2 — 6

Goals: G—MJ Santa Barbara 2, Maddie Epke 1, Ella Clarke, Payton Root, Kim Evans.

Assists: G—Maddie Epke 3, Grace Barlage, Ella Clarke, Scout Climie.

Saves: Pomperaug—Katherine O’Leary 15, Guilford-Julia McDonald 2.

Records: Pomperaug 15-4-0-2, Guilford 21-1.