MILFORD >> The person to guide the Branford girls lacrosse team to its first state championship was there when the journey all started nearly 20 years ago.
That made the ice bath for head coach Jackie Ceccolini after the No. 4 Hornets downed No. 2 Pomperaug 15-8 Saturday at Law to claim the Class M title feel extra sweet.
“This is huge,” Ceccolini said. “I played here when the program started (in 2000); to be a part of this program is huge. The girls have been built through our youth programs and it’s just been a great effort by the parents and the coaches that they’ve had their whole lives.”
Sophie Spencer stole the show with six goals and one assist for Branford, while LanLee Crotty added a hat trick. Branford led 15-5 with three minutes to play before a trio of late consolation goals for Pomperaug.
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“We just all went out there and worked hard; this is what we’ve been working for,” Spencer said. “If six goals is what’s going to do it, then you have to do what you have to do.”
A series of first-half saves from Branford goalie Jillian Ciarleglio paved the way to the surprisingly comfortable win — Pomperaug defeated Branford in overtime during the regular season in a much-colder, rain-afflicted affair. Ciarleglio made all seven of her saves in the first half.
“Lacrosse is big on momentum and if a team gets momentum you can get a few goals,” Ceccolini said. “We wanted to make sure we were controlling that momentum today.”
The missed opportunities from Pomperaug’s perspective put them in a major hole that it was unable to climb out of.
“Branford’s defense did a great job of knocking us off-center and causing us to question our system and question our shot selection,” Panthers coach Danielle Tammaro said.
“The first half I think we took 16 shots at one point and only scored three goals; it’s hard to win a game when that’s your shot percentage.”
Branford also face-guarded both Panthers star juniors Allison McCormick and Melanie Silverman for long portions of the game, making it difficult for both to find space. Camden Frissora led Pomperaug with three goals.
The last player to receive a winner’s medal for the Hornets likely had the biggest impact on securing the win. Junior Autumn McHenry scored three times, added three assists and completely took over the draw in the second half.
“It’s definitely a momentum thing,” McHenry said. “Kayla Kasmire, who takes the draw for Pomperaug, is super strong so we had to change it up a couple of times. Eventually we learned what she was doing and adapted to that, and that really helped us out.”
Branford went on a 7-0 run bridging the first and second halves after falling behind 3-2 to wrestle control of the game for good.
The ball was in the Pomperaug half for virtually the entire second half as one draw win after another by McHenry allowed the Hornets to dictate the pace of play.
“We just wanted to be smart with the ball and not force it since we don’t need to force it,” Spencer said. “We wanted to capitalize on our possession and make sure we were being smart with our plays.”
Both teams had never appeared in a state final prior to Saturday, and the win by the Hornets is the first state championship in girls lacrosse for the SCC.
BRANFORD 15, POMPERAUG 8
BRANFORD7 8 — 15
POMPERAUG3 5— 8
Records: Branford 16-4, Pomperaug 17-3. Scoring: B—Sophie Spencer 6g, 1a; Autumn McHenry 3g, 3a; LanLe Crotty 3g; Sabrina Torcellini 2g; Ashlee Smestad 1g. P—Melanie Silverman 3a; Allison McCormick 2g; 1a; Kayla Kasmire 1g; Camden Frissora 3g; Kathleen Schenk 2g. Goalies: B—Jillian Ciarleglio (7 saves); P—Dana Jeanette Gridley (4 saves). Shots: B—21, P—19.