TRUMBULL >> Branford field hockey coach Cathy McGuirk was disappointed after her team’s 1-0 loss in the Class M semifinals to New Canaan Wednesday night, but she was still smiling.
Four decades of experience have taught her that sometimes it’s just not meant to be.
After conceding an early goal and nearly going a couple behind, the Hornets righted the ship and had the better of the play for most of the second half — including six penalty corners. But they just couldn’t find the equalizer and were eliminated, 1-0, by defending Class M champion Rams at McDougall Stadium.
“They put their heart into it and worked hard, especially in the second half,” McGuirk said. “New Canaan is an excellent team. We’re an excellent team. And it was deserving of a 1-0 game either way it went, and unfortunately it went to the New Canaan side.
“But I couldn’t be prouder of how our girls played. They never quit, and that’s what Branford field hockey is.”
The No. 7 Rams (14-5-1), who won the state title from the same seed last season (including knocking off Branford in the first round), got the only goal just 5:41 into the game. Elizabeth McCarthy deflected a pass to Tigger Nesbett, who beat Branford goaltender Keira Integlia from close range.
New Canaan continued its early assault with two great chances a minute apart midway through the half, but Integlia turned them both away.
Branford (19-3-0) started to gain a territorial edge just before halftime, and really made a push to tie the game just after the break, when Sabrina Torcellini’s shot off a penalty corner bounced off several bodies before being cleared.
The Hornets then had a stretch of four-straight penalty corners, with Torcellini getting one opportunity and Brittney Bunbanlu getting another from near the goal. But neither could beat New Canaan goaltender Emily Gaeta or the mass of bodies in front of the cage.
“The early goal took the pressure off a little bit,” New Canaan coach Alyssa Havens said. “They put a lot of pressure on our defense and they stepped up. There were a lot of penalty corners to defend.”
Branford actually put the ball in the net off yet another penalty corner with 10 minutes left off the stick of Autumn McHenry, but the whistle had already blown due to a violation.
In all, New Canaan outshot Branford 11-7, with Integlia coming up big a couple more times toward the end, but the teams’ good chances were about equal.
“My husband (long-time assistant John) is the strategist and he did a good job making adjustments,” McGuirk said. “We talked about it, but the kids were doing what they had to do for the most part: stopping balls, making passes.
“There wasn’t much difference in the game, just two really good teams out there. You always make little changes, but not too many.”
The Hornets have not won a state title since 2005, which completed a stretch of four in five years. But McGuirk has plenty of optimism for her 41st season next fall. Although the Hornets graduate five seniors, including Integlia, several freshmen saw the field Wednesday night, and the 2017 team will be defending its first SCC title, which it won two weeks ago.
“It’s tough for the seniors, they all want to stay together as a group,” McGuirk said. “This is what sport is, though. Nights like tonight are part of the lessons of life.”
New Canaan 1, Branford 0
New Canaan 1 0 — 1
Branford 0 0 — 0
First half—NCA: Tigger Nesbett (Elizabeth McCarthy) 5:41;
Shots—NCA: 11; BR: 7;
Saves—NCA: Emily Gaeta 7; BR: Keira Integlia 10;
Team records—New Canaan 14-5-1; Branford 19-3-0