BRANFORD >> On Oct. 5, when the Guilford field hockey team lost to Southern Connecticut Conference rival Lauralton Hall, it served as a turning point in the Indians’ season.
“That day, Lauralton Hall played a great game against us and scored three quick goals before we got off the bus,” Guilford coach Kitty Palmer said. “They kicked us in the butt and that got us going. They used their speed to test our defense.
“That Lauralton game taught us a lot, because we started playing much better defense and that improved our offensive chances.”
The reality check and improved defense served the Indians well in their rematch with the Crusaders in a CIAC Class M field hockey semifinal on Wednesday.
The Crusaders dominated in ball possession and offensive chances throughout the game. But sophomore Celia Mariconda scored with 19 minutes, 31 seconds left in the second half and Cami Makula had 12 saves to lead No. 4 Guilford to a 1-0 win over No. 8 Lauralton Hall at Branford High.
“I knew this game would be tough. We needed to be strong the first 10-15 minutes and keep them from scoring,” Palmer said. “We couldn’t allow them to score quick early goals against us like they did in our game in October.
“The girls came out and did their best. Our defense came up big and Cami made some big saves, especially one tough save against Nikki Zaccaro. Everyone stepped for us because they were dominating the game.”
Guilford (17-3-0-1) advances to the Class M final and will face No. 7 New Canaan on Saturday at Wethersfield High at noon. Since that Oct. 5 game, the Indians have gone 10-3, including the SCC tournament. New Canaan defeated No. 3 Branford 1-0 in the other semifinal.
The Indians advance to their eighth CIAC state final. Their last appearance was a runner-up finish in 2012 in Class M. They won a Class L title in 1997 (co-champions with Simsbury).
Guilford’s defense was a key factor in the scoreless first half. Lauralton Hall dominated on offense and outshot the Indians 6-0. Zaccaro had one of the best chances of the game to score, with a wide open shot from about 6 yards out. As Zaccaro took the shot, Makula took a step out and made the save with 6:30 to go in the first half.
Mariconda gave the Indians their 1-0 lead following a breakaway down the right wing by Olivia Clarke. She spotted Mariconda in front of the net and chipped the ball to her. As soon as the ball hit her stick, Mariconda wristed a shot for the game-winning score.
“Olivia Clarke dribbled the ball down the right sideline and gave me a great pass,” Mariconda said. “As soon as I hit it I knew it was going in. Because everyone on our team was hustling, clearing balls and playing great defense, I thought that one goal had a good chance to hold up as the game-winner.”
The Crusaders (13-4-2-2) had eight penalty corners in the second half and took six shots. But the Crusaders couldn’t finish their chances due to Guilford’s on-field defense, led by Kendra Luden and Mallory Peters and the saves by Makula.
“We scored early on in our first game and we wanted to score early in this game,” Lauralton Hall coach Kati Cavanagh said. “But I think our girls put a little too much pressure on themselves to finish their chances.
“Nikki Zaccaro and Kylie Forrest took some great shots, but we just couldn’t finish. There were four time outs in the game. Honestly, in those time outs I couldn’t say anything to my girls, because they were playing a fantastic game. I couldn’t ask any more of them.”
Lauralton Hall goalie Mary-Beth Rudolf had two saves.