Field hockey: Staples exacts revenge, ousts Wilton from state playoffs

The Staples field hockey team avenged its heartbreaking overtime loss to Wilton in the FCIAC championship game eight days ago by defeating the Warriors 3-1 on Friday in the Class L state quarterfinals in Westport.

The Wreckers, seeded third, broke a scoreless tie with 1:27 left in the first half, on a goal by Sophie Smith. They busted things open early in the second half with two goals in a span of 40 seconds — by Meg Johnson and Abby Najarian — to lead 3-0 with 28:32 left to play.

The Warriors, seeded sixth, pressured consistently over the final 15 minutes but only managed one goal, by freshman Olivia Hahn, with five minutes left.

Staples improved its record to 17-0-2-1 and moved on to the semifinals, while Wilton finished the season at 16-2-2-1.

Wilton had its run of state championship game appearances ended at five in a row.

The Warriors controlled a good part of the first half, with an 8-1 edge in penalty corners, but couldn’t produce a goal. Staples actually had the better chances, with two breakaways that were just turned away and an open shot from five yards that was blocked by goalie Emma Likly.

The Wreckers finally broke through with 1:27 left in the first half, after a excellent save by Likly led to a scramble in front, before Smith slammed the ball in near the left post.

The Wreckers came out of halftime on the attack, pushing the ball into the circle, and it paid off on Johnson’s goal just 48 seconds into the second half. Najarian capped off another Staples push with a goal at 28:32 to make it 3-0.

For the game, Wilton had an 18-2 edge in penalty corners, while Staples had a 7-3 edge in shots at goal. Likly came up with big stops all game, finishing with five saves. Bridget Mallory made one save for Staples.

Staples head coach Ian Tapsall said he didn’t know how the Wreckers would bounce back from the FCIAC title-game loss, and wanted his team to stay confident and in attack mode.

“If you play against a team that’s as good as Wilton, they can really put you on the back foot. I wanted to make sure we kept pushing forward, that we would get the breaks, and if we got it in the circle we would take advantage of our opportunities,” he said.

That Wilton controlled a lot of the play wasn’t a big concern, he said.

“If a team has 75% of the play and we only have 25%, I’m fine with that. Because the 25% means we got an opportunity in the circle. I’m fairly confident that if we get it in the circle, something will happen,” he said. “I’m more than confident in the way our defense plays, as they’ve shown throughout the season.”

The early exit by defending Class L champ Wilton was a hard way to end the season, said head coach Deirdre Hynes.

“We knew that to come out on top we had to execute on corners. In the first half we had eight corners and we should have capitalized on that. We dominated most of the play in the first half, we played excellent. You can’t tell that by the score,” she said. “In the second half, the first minute and 28 seconds caught us off guard a little bit. You never know when the window of opportunity is going to happen. It played to their advantage today.”

Wilton was without senior Bridget Ward, their best two-way player, who was sidelined with a finger injury suffered in the FCIAC finals.

Ward is part of a senior class, along with fellow captain Meredith Rappaport, Delaney Chase, Gwen Hall, Caroline Ferro, Susan Clasby, Katie Leffel and Erynn Fray that led Wilton to its first FCIAC title.

The team’s four-year players — Ward, Rappaport, Chase and Hall — were part of an incredible stretch for Wilton field hockey that saw the Warriors notch 72 wins, play in three FCIAC championship games and three state championship games, and capture two state titles and one FCIAC title.

“It a tough way for our seniors to end. My heart goes out to Bridget, who wasn’t able to be on the field today. She’s a tremendous asset to this team. And Meredith. They’ve been great leaders, great captains, all season,” said coach Hynes. “This senior class has a ton of leadership and talent. For them it’s a tough life lesson. For the juniors, they have a talented class, they’re not going to forget this loss next year.”

For the young Wreckers, a team with only two seniors, Friday’s win was a hallmark victory for a program on the rise.

“The girls deserved it from the effort they put in preseason,” said coach Tapsall. “They’re lacrosse girls who are on a learning curve and they take everything in, they soak it up. Most of them a†re not hockey players — some of them are, but most are not. But we’re on an upward curve and we’re only getting better.”