MILFORD >> Time was ticking away during the low-scoring Class M girls lacrosse state championship game and Kristin Woods, the head coach of defending champion New Canaan, had a simple message for her team.
Seeing that the Rams were tied with a counter-punching Barlow squad, Woods implored her veteran players to take command of things before it was too late.
Senior Samantha Stewart took those words to heart, scoring twice in a span of 11 seconds as New Canaan won its fourth Class M title in the last five years with a 7-4 victory on Saturday at Law High School.
Six minutes elapsed from the time that New Canaan senior Catherine Granito tied the game with her third goal of the afternoon and Stewart went to work.
Shortly before Stewart began the Rams’ run of three goals in 53 seconds, freshman goalie Caroline O’Dea made a save on Barlow’s Breanna Prevelige.
Stewart found some room against the pesky Barlow defense and tucked a shot past Erin Holder. Stewart won the ensuing face-off cleanly, raced up field and scored another goal. When sophomore Karlie Bucci had the first of her two tallies, suddenly the Rams led by three goals.
“In a timeout, our coach told us we had 11 minutes left and we had to leave everything on the field,” Stewart said. “I was determined to get the ball, go to goal, find a teammate because we had to get up on the scoreboard or else I think Joel Barlow would have taken that from us. It was a completely amazing feeling. When I got the ball, I told myself, ‘Go.’ The only thing I saw was the net and I wanted to get the ball in it.”
Stewart, who had a strong game in the face-off circle, doesn’t always think about scoring when she wins a draw but Granito encouraged her to think shot first if the opportunity presented itself.
“We looked at each other, we said it is our senior year and let’s get this done,” Granito said. “I looked at her and said, ‘You take it if you have it.’ She had two goals back to back which was a huge spark and it really got the team going.”
Granito had the Rams’ first three goals tying the game twice in the first 8 minutes of the second half setting the stage for Stewart and Bucci to hit the back of the net twice each in the final 11:17.
“A lot of it was just little things that we weren’t doing in the first half that make a big difference,” Granito said. “Draw controls, we need to come up with more of them, slowing down on attack and being bigger on defense so that was a huge change.”
Barlow (17-3), which needed a furious rally just to beat Hand in the semifinals, did not go away quietly.
Sierra Fey scored to make it a two-goal game with 3:54 to play and when Holder stoned Campbell Armstrong with 90 seconds left to play, Barlow quickly turned defense into offense. Knowing a goal could make things rather interesting in the final moments, the New Canaan defenders scampered back. Sophomore Julia Ozimek got her stick in front of a pass and the crisis was averted.
“I was going to try to get the ball back and be aggressive,” Ozimek said. “I think it really helped us sustain momentum and keep the ball so we could solidify the win. We needed the ball at that point so we could keep possession and keep the score where it was.”
Emma Coppock tied the game with 6:48 left in the first half for Barlow and with nine seconds remaining in the first half, Jettke Gray scored to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.
Granito and Stewart led the second-half charge as they were able to end their high school careers by being members of another state championship team.
“It was definitely bittersweet because we knew it was our last time playing together before we left for college,” Stewart said. “It was important that we left our best play on the field in our last game.”
New Canaan 7, Barlow 4
New Canaan 1 0 — 7
Barlow 2 0 — 4
Goals: (NCA) Catherine Granito 3; Sammy Stewart 2; (NCA) Karlie Bucci 2;
Saves: (NCA) Caroline O’Dea 5; (BLW) Erin Holder 5;
Shots—NCA: 12; BLW: 9;
Team records—Barlow 17-3; New Canaan 17-3