Field hockey: Wilton gives Lakeland a good fight in 3-0 loss

Win or lose, playing against national power Lakeland, N.Y., is always a good way to gauge where you stand as a team.

And despite losing to the visiting Hornets, 3-0, on Monday at Fujitani Field, the Wilton High field hockey team was able to walk off the field feeling pretty confident.

The Warriors (2-2) fell behind early, 1-0, but played Lakeland even the rest of the first half and first eight minutes of the second half, with multiple chances to tie the game.

Lakeland (6-0) seized the momentum with a pair of penalty-corner goals in span of three minutes to build a 3-0 lead with 18:27 left to play, and controlled the game the rest of the way.

“The girls played great. I hope all the girls are proud of the way they played because I think they held their own,” said Wilton co-coach Liz Pisko. “It’s just making sure we finish in the circle. It’s something we’ve been working on and will continue to work on.”

The Warriors were coming off a hard-fought 1-0 overtime win at Ridgefield last Friday, and that performance gave them a big boost going into the Lakeland game, said co-coach Toniann Cortina.

“It was a confidence booster because they didn’t give up and they fought to the end, and because they came out victorious, knowing that if they keep pushing and keep fighting, they can do it,” she said. “So we were trying to bring that intensity into this game, and we did. We just came up a little short.”

The Hornets, ranked eighth in the country by Max Field Hockey, came into the game 5-0, having outscored three opponents 35-0. They have been New York State champions eight straight seasons and haven’t lost to a New York opponent since 2008 — when they were defeated by a Putnam Valley team coached by Cortina.

Lakeland had some great early pressure, with Wilton goalie Megan Kaeyer making a big save and some timely clears by Molly Ward, Sophia Mercado and Madeleine Pagliaro.

Kelsey McCrudden got the Hornets on the board at 17:29 of the first half, rocketing a shot into the cage from 10 yards in front. Kaeyer had just made an outstanding kick save on a blast from up top.

But the play was up and down the field for most of the first half, with Wilton having the better of the play over the final 10 minutes and some great opportunties to score, including a few scrambles for a loose ball in front of the goal. Olivia Hahn was particularly active, getting off one shot that unfortunately hit a teammate’s foot in front of the goal, and another blast that clanged into the side of the cage.

Wilton had more good chances to tie the game in the opening portion of the second half, with Lakeland goalie Cassie Halpin blocking Hahn’s shot at the left post and Jess Hendry’s hard hit from the side nearly connecting with Molly Thomas running to the far post.

But the Hornets, who had six of their seven penalty corners in the second half, made it 2-0 at 21:18 on a corner when Julia Papanicolaou tipped a ball into the net after a shot had been deflected to the far post. Kaeyer had no chance on the next goal, at 18:27 off another corner, when Caroline Cahill’s blast from the top of the circle took a wicked deflection into the cage.

For the game, Lakeland had a 10-6 edge in shots on goal, with Cassie Halpin making six saves for the shutout. Kayer finished with seven saves for Wilton. The Hornets also had a 7-1 edge in corners.

The Warriors were coming off a very tough 1-0 overtime win at Ridgefield on Friday, with Hahn scoring the game-winner with 2:51 left in the extra period.

The game was played at a very high level, with both sides having chances before Wilton emerged victorious is the 7v.7 overtime.

“The speed that the girls used and their passing, it was great,” said coach Pisko of the Warriors’ overtime performance.

Ellie Kaiser finished with seven saves in goal for the Tigers, while Kaeyer made five saves for Wilton.