Field hockey: Rosen's OT goal nets Warriors first-ever FCIAC title

After coming home empty in six previous trips to the FCIAC championship game, the seventh time was the charm for the Wilton High field hockey team.

And charmed might be the right word, as a controversial call late in the second overtime period awarded the Warriors a penalty stroke, which Emma Rosen converted to give Wilton a 1-0 win over Staples on Thursday night at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.

It was Wilton’s first-ever FCIAC field hockey title, after losing in the finals six times in the previous 10 seasons.

“Finally. Every time we get to the finals, it’s a 1-0 game or it’s a barnburner, or it’s overtime. So it feels pretty good to be on the other side of it for once in the FCIAC championship,” said head coach Deirdre Hynes. “We came out, we executed the game plan. We knew what we needed to do, and they got the job done. We knew it wouldn’t be quick and easy. But double overtime, we weren’t expecting. But they took whatever came their and they chipped away. Whatever came their way, whoever got injured, whatever new lineup had to come in, whatever new formation, they adjusted to it and did a phenomenal job across the board, everybody.”

Before Rosen’s goal, top-seeded Wilton and second-seeded Staples — who had finished tied for first place in the regular-season standings — had played 146 minutes of field hockey this season with neither side surrendering a goal. During the regular season, they had played to a 0-0 tie.

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Playing seven-on-seven in the two 10-minute, sudden-victory overtime periods, both teams had chances to win.

The Wreckers had five successive penalty corners early in the first overtime but couldn’t convert, and the Warriors had two corners midway through the period. Late in first overtime Caroline Ferro carried the ball up the field and into the left circle, but her shot was turned away by Staples goalie Bridget Mulloy.

The Wreckers had two golden opportunities in the second overtime, both off corners. On the first, with about seven minutes to go, Elle Fair’s hit from the top of the arc went directly to Liv Ekholdt, parked near the left post. When the Wilton defense and goalie Emma Likly moved to cover the post, Ekholdt rolled a pass in front that was just out of the reach of a wide-open Christine Taylor.

On the next corner, with about five minutes left, Likly blocked Kyle Kirby’s aerial shot, and Ekholdt put a shot off Likly’s leg pad on the rebound attempt. The ball was still loose in front, but Ekholdt’s attempt to get off another shot was thwarted by Julia Skillin and Wilton was able to clear.

That led to a counterattack, with Skillin passing ahead to Olivia Hahn, who then sent a ball from midfield towards the Staples goal. Fair won the footrace with Rosen to get to the ball in the arc first, but Rosen tapped the ball behind Fair to the end line. As Rosen controlled the ball, Fair lost her balance and fell to the ground, and then swung her stick at the ball in an attempt to prevent Rosen from moving from the end line to the cage.

The referee blew the whistle to call a foul, and Wilton was awarded the penalty stroke with 4:07 left.

According to field hockey rules, a penalty stroke may be called if a foul is made that prevents a certain goal from being scored, or for “a deliberate infringement by a defender in the penalty circle”.

Since two Staples defenders were between Rosen and the goal by the time the foul was called, it did not prevent a certain goal, so the referee apparently ruled that the foul was deliberate.

Whatever the reason, Rosen took the stroke seven yards out and put a shot inside the right post that Mulloy really had no chance of stopping, giving Wilton the win.

Rosen was only taking the stroke because senior captain Bridget Ward — who usually is called upon to take penalty strokes — had suffered a severe finger injury late in the second half and had already been taken to the hospital at that point.

Emma practiced it yesterday. It shows that you never know when you’ll be called upon,” said coach Hynes. “Emma was focused and prepared. She worked on strokes yesterday and as it happened she was called today.”

Four minutes away from being at least FCIAC co-champions, it was a bitter way for the Wreckers to lose the game.

“I’ve never seed the officials decide an overtime game in high school. Never. And our girls are obviously very upset. I think the right way is to play the game out, and a call like that should not decide the game,” said Staples head coach Ian Tapsall. “If you’re impeding the player, fair enough. If she’s going in on goal, straight line into goal, and (you) impede the player, fair enough. The girl was on the baseline. The ball was stopped, dead. She wasn’t moving, and I think our player swung around with her stick and hit her stick. I can justify a penalty corner. I can’t justify a penalty lift.”

“It shouldn’t happen this way.”

It was a fiercely-played, up-and-down-the-field type of game, and both teams had chances to break the deadlock at different points. In the first half, the teams combine for only five shots at goal (Wilton had a 3-2 edge) but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of action. Both goalies were forced to venture out of goal to defuse breakaways, with the Wreckers putting long hits behind the Wilton defense three times for near breakaways.

The Warriors came out after halftime and dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half.

The best chances came midway through the half on two successive corners. On the first, Bridget Ward send a ball through the crease, with Delaney Chase parked near the left post, but the ball was deflected away at the last moment.

On the next corner, Emma Rothkopf’s blast from the top of the arc deflected off a Staples player’s stick into the air and over Mulloy, only to hit off the crossbar.

The Wreckers, who at one point were down three players in the second half due to cards, held steady on the defensive end and eventually began to push the ball the other way as the half wound down. With nine minutes left in regulation, on a corner, Chloe Deveney got off an aerial shot that looked dangerous before dropping just over the crossbar.

Wilton had a 4-1 edge in shots at goal in the second half, and 5-1 edge in corners.

For the game, the Warriors finished with a 9-5 edge in shots at goal, and 10-9 edge in corners.

Mulloy made seven saves in goal for Staples, and Likly, who was named MVP for the game, had five saves for Wilton.

“It was an entire team effort. We talked about trust and support and they did exactly that,” said coach Hynes, adding that the team had to pull together after losing Bridget Ward, an all-FCIAC midfielder and team leader, late in the second half. “Having her go down, I think there was maybe a little bit of hesitation at first. But then, what do you gotta do? You gotta bring home a medal for Bridget. If anything was going to cheer her up, that’s going to cheer her up. They did exactly that.”

Hynes in particular singled out the play of defenders Meredith Rappaport and Sophia Kaplan, who played all 76 minutes and came up with several key plays in the defensive zone.

“They came up with huge, tremendous saves. Those two were dominant on defense. They didn’t get subbed out once. They played the entire game and both overtimes,” she said, also praising the play of Likly in goal.

“She came up tremendously. We’ve been working on it as a unit. We know Staples likes to crowd the circle. Emma was prepared for direct shots and then (Staples) crashing the boards. She did a good job, along with Sophia and Meredith.”

Tapsall said that despite the bitterness of the loss, he couldn’t have asked more from his players than they gave.

“In terms of effort and backs against the wall, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team like ours overcome the adversity they overcame in this game,” he said. “The effort was just incredible, both sides. Take nothing away from Wilton. They’re a class side.”