Field hockey: Wilton rolls into Class M semifinals (updated)

After battling Joel Barlow to a scoreless halftime tie, the Wilton High field hockey team knew it had to raise its play in the second half if it wanted its season to go on.

The top-seeded Warriors wasted no time after the intermission, scoring just over two minutes into the second half and then holding off a very solid, very young Barlow squad, 2-0, in the Class M state quarterfinals at home.

The three-time defending state champs improved to 16-3-1-0 and advanced to the Class M semifinals, where they will play fourth-seeded Lauralton Hall next week in a rematch of last year’s state finals (won by Wilton 1-0 in overtime).

Thursday’s game, played on a rain-soaked field, started with the Warriors in control, with several good scoring chances over the first 15 minutes. Then the eighth-seeded Falcons turned the momentum and it became an evenly played, back-and-forth game over the final 15 minutes of the half.

The final 30 minutes was all Wilton, as the Warriors put the pressure on the Barlow defense the entire second half, with an 8-0 advantage in shots on goal. But the Falcons did a good job around their goal to keep it a 1-0 game until 1:45 left to play, when Delaney Baxendale blasted a ball in to make it 2-0.

Wilton senior captains Kristen Godin said the Warriors had expected a battle.

“We come into every game expecting a great game, no matter what seed they are, because that doesn’t mean anything when you step onto the field. It’s whoever has the most heart,” she said. “I think we adapted really well and picked it up in the second half. I think we played a really great game. It wasn’t one of our best games but it was definitely up there.”

“I knew they had a couple of solid players, and they would be up. It’s the quarterfinals. They knew they had an opportunity to come up and upset us,” said Wilton head coach Deirdre Hynes. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We had to play our best defense and our best offense.”

Katherine Campbell and Baxendale scored the goals for Wilton, with Godin and Bridget Ward each notching an assist.

Wilton finished with a 14-2 edge in shots on goal, and had an 11-2 edge in penalty corners.

Tatiana Naclerio played a superb game in goal for Barlow, with 12 saves in goal, and Amanda Hendry had two saves for Wilton.

The Warriors produced the game’s first good scoring chance about four minute in, when Meg Cunningham dribbled her way into the arc, getting through or past four defenders, to create a penalty corner. On the play, Naclerio made a high save on a lift shot by Jillian Mahon, and then stopped Ward’s shot on the rebound attempt.

That was followed a short time later by a save on an open shot by Godin, and then a couple of Wilton corners, with Barlow’s Briana Marcelino blocking Godin’s open shot to the right of the cage.

Midway through the half, the Warriors had a beautiful push over midfield, with passes from Caroline Taverna to Delaney Baxendale to Godin, leading to another carry by Cunningham into the arc. This time, she passed the ball though the crease to Gwen Hall, whose shot was just wide.

At that point, the Falcons began to push back, getting their first corner at the 15-minute mark, leading to a shot by Zoe Marcelino that was stopped by Hendry. Barlow had another shot go wide a few minutes later, off another corner, and pressured dangerously again with about eight minutes left when Hendry kicked away a shot by Emma Coppock, who made a nice run through several defenders into the arc.

With three minutes to go in the half, a Barlow hit from midfield bounced past three Wilton players, allowing Marcelino to control the ball in the arc for an open shot, which was blasted high.

Cunningham’s speed and ability to dribble the ball past and through defenders led to another Wilton corner with two minutes left, with Godin’s shot blocked by a defender. Wilton got one more corner before the half, with a shot bouncing wide.

Wilton had a 6-2 edge in shots on goal in the half, and 4-2 edge in corners. On defense, center back Meredith Rappaport did an outstanding job defusing multiple Barlow attacks in the first half.

Wilton got on the scoreboard at 2:18 of the second half, off a penalty corner. On the play, Godin’s shot was tipped in front by Ward and deflected into the air to the left of the goal, where Campbell made a great play to knock it out of the air and into the cage.

Throughout the half, Wilton kept Barlow pinned inside its half of the field, with Cunningham, Godin, Baxendale, Maddie Duffy, Hall, Mahon, Ward, Campbell and Susan Clasby blocking hits and causing turnovers — and then attacking.

With 13:35 left, off a corner, Naclerio stopped Godin’s shot, and after a scramble, Hall’s shot was deflected wide. She later stopped a shot by Mahon, off a corner, with 6:20 left to play.

For the most part, Barlow played smart and poised in the arc, defused attack after attack, and stayed within a goal until the final minutes.

Wilton finally got an insurance goal with 1:45 left. The goal was initiated by another great run by Cunningham, leading to a shot in front by Campbell and at the post by Hall, both of which were blocked by Naclerio. The ball eventually rolled out to Baxendale, open about 10 yards out, and she blasted a shot into the left side of the cage.

“I think they played more like a team in the second half,” Hynes said of her team. “I think we were much more aggressive when we had the ball, and then 50/50 balls going to them. And when (Barlow was) taking free hits, I thought we played much more intelligent reading where they wanted to go.”

The Wilton defense — Rappaport, Taverna and Jess Hendry, with Caroline Ferro filling in off the bench — did not allow a shot in the second half.

“I think our defense stepped up tremendously. They were trying to hit the ball up to their forward line, just big hits, and we knew that, so defensively instead of them letting Barlow receive and then play defense, (it was) let’s go get that ball,” said Hynes. “I think they did an excellent job stepping up. Meredith Rappaport did an amazing job, stepping up, being aggressive and kind of taking number 8’s momentum away from her.”

“They made some really good adjustments on their defense. They were cutting off our passes, reading the passes much better in the second half,” said Barlow coach Connie Chapin, whose team finished the season at 13-6-1.

Coach Chapin had nothing but praise for her team after the game.

“We’ve come a long way at Joel Barlow and I think fundamentally we’re very, very sound, and its’ a very positive bunch of kids,” she said. “I don’t have any negative thoughts whatsoever about the way we played the game. I think we should have our heads held high. We came a lot farther than people had anticipated, and we have a wonderful future going forward. We’re graduating seven seniors but only one starter.”

Chapin said it was another stepping stone for a program on the rise.

“Our kids are learning how to win and not be quite so shy about stepping out onto the field against a team like this,” she said. “Our team played well. It could have easily gone either way. Their goalie is outstanding. I can’t say enough about their goalie. Megan Cunningham is just unbelievable. She did a really nice job.”

The Warriors now prepare for fourth-seeded Lauralton Hall (14-3-1), a team they beat earlier this season 1-0, in addition to last year’s state championship game. The date, time and site of the game is expected to be announced on Saturday.

“They’re going to be out for blood. We know that. I’m sure they’re still probably not over last year’s finals, so we know this exactly what they wanted. It’s going to be a hard-fought game,” said Hynes.

“It will be a great game again. We’re excited to play them again,” Godin said.