FAIRFIELD >> If the Lauralton Hall field hockey team continues to improve at its current pace, it won’t be long before the Crusaders are standing atop the Class M mountain.
But in order to make that happen, Lauralton Hall will have to find a way to get past Wilton.
The fourth-seeded Crusaders were stopped in their tracks once again by their new nemesis as top-seeded Wilton scored two goals in a little over two minutes late in the game to post a 2-0 victory in the Class M semifinals on Tuesday at Fairfield Ludlowe’s Taft Field.
Lauralton Hall had a sizeable edge in scoring chances, finishing with a 12-6 shot advantage while producing seven penalty corners to Wilton’s five. But Wilton, the three-time defending Class M state champion, showed its winning pedigree by taking advantage of its few quality opportunities.
Sophomore Bridget Ward broke a scoreless tie with 7:08 left in the game, knocking in a deflection by Meg Cunningham off an initial pass from senior Delaney Baxendale.
Wilton (17-3-1), which will face No. 2 Hand in the Class M final on Saturday at Wethersfield High, scored again with 4:55 left on a goal by junior Katherine Campbell off a great feed out of the right corner by Ward.
“We had tons of opportunities,” said Kati Cavanagh, Lauralton Hall’s second-year coach. “But that was part of the postgame talk. In field hockey, it’s the team that capitalizes that wins and they did a great job of that.”
Lauralton Hall (16-4-1) has now lost its last three meetings with Wilton, including a 1-0 setback during the regular season and a devastating 1-0 overtime loss in the Class M championship game last year.
Wilton will be making its eighth appearance in the final and looking for its sixth state title. Lauralton has made steady progress over the past few years, reaching the final in 2011 in Class S and again last year in its first season in Class M.
“They’re a tough team. I’m going to get them one of these years. They better watch out,” Cavanagh said jokingly.
Wilton coach Deirdre Hynes knew getting past Lauralton was going to be tough. Since last season, the Warriors lost eight players to graduation while Lauralton Hall brought back all but two. The revenge factor also worried Hynes.
“I knew this was going to be a different team than the one we saw in September,” Hynes said. “They only lost their center-mid and their goalie from last year. And they’re hungry. They’re hungry to get that win that they were short of last year.”
Lauralton dominated much of the first half from an offensive standpoint, producing four penalty corners over the first 20 minutes, getting off a couple of strong shots by Alexa Dawid and Lindsey Spitz. But Wilton goalie Amanda Hendry (seven saves) kicked them all away to keep the game scoreless.
Lauralton appeared to score with 18:30 left in the first half after a battle in front, but the officials waved the play dead before the ball went in.
“I knew she called it back, but I’m not quite sure what happened down there,” said Cavanagh. “It would have been nice to go up 1-0 at halftime. That would have been a big momentum shift.”
Lauralton had another solid chance early in the second half with Hendry stuffing Kiley Forrest on a point-blank chance off a corner by senior Jaclyn Brewster with 14 minutes left. Hynes then called timeout with 10:36 left with Wilton mustering only three shots on goal up to that point.
“At halftime Lauralton had more shots, but I thought we possessed the ball a decent amount more than them. We just weren’t getting shots,” Hynes said. “I told them, we can’t score if we don’t shoot. So we have to start shooting, shooting, shooting.”
Wilton made it happen quickly. Baxendale sent the ball in from the left side after a Lauralton foul. Cunningham got her stick on the ball on the right side of the goal box and shifted it across to the left. No one was there to deny Ward and she easily knocked it past Lauralton goalie Mary-Beth Rudolph (two saves).
Ward made a run down the right side a couple minutes later, feeding Campbell for an easy goal into an open net.
Wilton will face the same scenario against Hand, a team it knocked out in the semifinals last year. Hand (19-2-1), which beat Lauralton in the Southern Connecticut Conference championship, posted a 2-1 victory over No. 6 Avon in the other semifinal.
“It’s always a tough game when we play them,” Hynes said. “They’re going to come out ready to play. It’s a similar story to Lauralton Hall. We knocked them out last year, so they’re going to want to pay us back.”
Wilton 2, Lauralton Hall 0
Lauralton Hall 0 0 — 0
Wilton 0 2 — 2
Second half—Wil: Bridget Ward (Meg Cunningham) ; Katherine Campbell. (Bridget Ward) ;
Shots—LHA: 12; Wil: 6;
Saves—LHA: Mary Beth Rudolph 2; Wil: Amanda Hendry 7;
Team records—Lauralton Hall 16-4-1; Wilton 17-3-1