WATERTOWN – On a frosty evening on a wind-swept field at Watertown High, the season came to an end for the Avon High field hockey team. Top-ranked Lauralton Hall scored with 1:29 left in the first overtime in Tuesday’s Class M semifinal to earn its second-ever berth in a state championship game.
It was a heroic effort for the Falcons, who were outshot by a 15-1 margin and had to defend against 16 penalty corner opportunities for the Crusaders. Goalie Natalie Sawicki made seven saves in net, including a pair of saves at point blank range in the first half.
No. 4 Avon (13-4-2) had just two penalty corners in the game and one shot on goal.
“Our defense played incredible,” Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki said. “Our goalie was outstanding. We just stopped them. In the end, we were unlucky and that was the game.”
The aggressiveness of the Crusader defense slowed down the Avon offense. The Falcons didn’t cross midfield for nearly 10 minutes in the second half.
“They are really quick to the ball and intercept a lot of passes,” Avon’s regional All-American midfielder Caroline Schaefer said. “They’re just a good team.”
Yet, the game went into sudden death overtime and Avon nearly stole it. With about 3:15 left in the first 10-minute overtime period, Schaefer picked up the ball near midfield and weaved her way through the Crusader defense toward the goal.
She moved between two players but another Lauralton Hall defender closed in on her. Schaefer got off the shot but it went wide of the goal. “I had the shot but unfortunately I couldn’t finish it,” she said. “I hit it wrong.”
Lauralton Hall (19-0-2) responded immediately, taking the ball the length of the field. Junior Victoria Stapleton was able to carry it down the near sideline in front of the two team benches. She made a nice pass to Maureen Connolly in the middle of the field.
Connolly, easily the most dynamic player for Lauralton Hall on this cold night, drew two Avon defenders to her. Connolly quick fired a pass about 30 yards to her right to a wide-open Elizabeth LaMonte, who popped in the game-winning goal.
It puts the Crusaders in the finals for the first time since 2011 when they lost to Granby in the Class S championship game.
“Avon is a really good team. They played really hard,” LaMonte said. “Sometimes, it comes down to one shot.”
Avon, playing in the semifinals for the third time in the last four seasons, was looking for its first berth in the finals since 1998.
“It was a tough game,” Schaefer said. “Lauralton is a great team but our defense really stepped it up today. I’m so proud of our team.”
Senior Sarah Katherine Mascoli played sweeper while junior Katherine Stoll, freshman Hannah Deppe and senior Marissa Grillo anchored the defense. In overtime, it was Grillo and Rachel Moore with nice efforts to prevent Lauralton Hall from getting off a shot on another penalty corner opportunity.
Sawicki made some nice saves in heavy traffic. With about 10:30 left in the first half, she made back-to-back pad saves on multiple shots by LaMonte. With 8:13 remaining in the half, she dove and gobbled up the ball to prevent Lauralton’s Victoria Stapleton from getting a shot in front of the net.
In the opening minutes of the second half, she made a nice hand save on a hard shot by Connolly. Lauralton had a chance in the final minute of regulation with a crossing pass from Connolly that bounced across the crease with about 30 seconds left but no Crusader could get a stick on the ball.
For Avon, junior Emily Stross had some nice opportunities but couldn’t get neat the Crusader goal. It was 28 degrees as overtime began and wind gusts of about 10 miles an hour, it felt like it was about 20 degrees on the multi-surface field. The Falcons had won seven of their last eight contests.