WEST HAVEN – Turnabout is fair play and, for Guilford, it’s resulted in an SCC girls lacrosse championship.
On a play which began with a turnover about 40 yards from the net, junior Catherine Larrow took a long pass from senior Nicolette Spotlow and scored with 11.8 seconds remaining in overtime to give Guilford a dramatic, 11-10, win over Cheshire in the SCC title game Saturday at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven.
The play began with a Guilford shot denied, but as they scrambled to get back to defend against a Cheshire breakout, the Indians suddenly had another chance when the ball popped loose.
“Maggie (Mandel) kicked the ball to me and I scooped it and then passed it all the way down the field to Catherine,” Spotlow said. “I looked upfield, I saw her open, and I knew we were winning it right there and then.”
With that, second-seeded Guilford (16-2) could finally celebrate an SCC championship after being denied in four previous trips to the final. It’s the first outright league title for the Indians, who were declared co-champs alongside Branford back in 2002.
“The girls have been preparing really since we lost in the semifinals last season,” Guilford coach Wendy Epke said. “They just really wanted this and wanted to go further. Getting to the finals was not enough for us. We really wanted to win this and they came out here with all they had.”
Top-seeded Cheshire (16-2) was denied an eighth SCC championship and finished as the conference runner-up for the fourth straight season. The Rams last won the SCC crown in 2014.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort,” Cheshire coach Dan Warburton said. “For whatever reason, we just weren’t in sync, especially in that second half. Defensively, we did a pretty good job on them after the opening five to 10 minutes, but offensively, we just couldn’t get in a rhythm. We just weren’t patient enough with the ball.”
Guilford’s freshman goalie Sydney Widlitz was named the game’s MVP after making 11 saves. Cheshire scored its ninth goal with 21:05 remaining in the second half, but found the net just one more time the rest of the way.
“She did so wonderful,” Epke said of Widlitz. “We’ve always struggled to find someone who wants to play goalie for us and be really dedicated to it, but she’s just been unbelievable and so eager this year. She’s played in the freshman games, the JV games and varsity, and is always developing her craft. This is really exciting for her.”
The rest of the defense was outstanding as well, led by Mandel, a junior, and seniors Solace Porter and Erin Norton, among others.
Freshman Maddie Epke led the Indians’ scoring with four goals, while Larrow had a hat trick and Hannah Tillier scored twice.
For Cheshire, senior Annie Eddy had a game-best five points on four goals and one assist, and senior Annie Acquavita had three goals and one assist.
Guilford had the better of play for the first 10 minutes, building a 5-2 advantage when Larrow scored at the 11:06. Eddy responded by winning the ensuing draw, rushing in and scoring just 13 seconds later.
That ignited a 6-0 run for the Rams, who went in front 8-2 late in the first half. Larrow broke Guilford’s slide with a goal with 3:07 remaining, but the Indians still trailed 8-6 at halftime.
“We needed a period to just think about it collect our thoughts and say we can do this as a team,” Spotlow said. “Let’s work together, let’s play and it’s just like any other game. We just had to pass the ball, score, anything just play lacrosse and play our game.”
After the teams traded goals to open the second half, Guilford tied the game at 9-9 on back-to-back tallies from Sydney Cunningham and Tillier. The Rams regained the lead when Eddy went top shelf with 6:24 remaining, but Tillier equalized with 1:57 remaining.
Guilford has possession for nearly the entire overtime session and worked it in front for a shot by Maddie Epke, but goalie Sophie Kurtz made the save.
While clearing, however, the Rams turned the ball over, leading to Larrow’s winning goal.
“It was a quick, head’s up play by Nicolette,” coach Epke said. “We worked the ball around, we got a shot, it didn’t go in and that’s okay. We didn’t put our heads down, we re-defended it, and we won back the ground ball. Nicolette saw Catherine really quick and she just turned and buried it with an awesome shot.”
The state playoffs await both teams and Cheshire will use the loss as motivation moving forward.
“There’s still good games out there to get,” Warburton said. “The season’s not over. We’ve got a tough draw but all you can do is use this as motivation and want to do well in states.”
For Guilford, there is time to celebrate before the Class M tournament.
“It was an unbelievable feeling, something I’ve never felt before,” Spotlow said. “You only get one shot at this. We had nothing to lose and everything to win. We put it all on the field and it was amazing to win that. Everyone rushing together and the crowds — it was amazing.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sydney Widlitz, Guilford. The freshman goalie came up big in the spotlight, racking up 11 saves to earn MVP honors for the SCC final. The Indians’ defense allowed just two goals over the final 31-plus minutes.
“Our senior class, these girls have been playing lacrosse in the youth program for years, some of them since they were in kindergarten. This is just the culmination of all their hard work. And we’re not done yet. We want to do a really good job in states too.” — Guilford coach Wendy Epke