CLINTON — Whenever fierce Shoreline Conference field hockey rivals Westbrook and North Branford get together, it’s usually a tough defensive struggle and the trend continued on Friday in the Shoreline Conference tournament final.
Both defenses played well, limiting the offensive chances of 2018 Shoreline Conference Player of the Year Avery Bauman of Westbrook and 2017 Shoreline Conference Player of the Year Amy Raucci of North Branford.
The difference was the Thunderbirds’ ability to dominate ball possession. Ali Barrett and Ava Galdenzi scored to give No. 1 North Branford a 2-0 win over No. 2 Westbrook at the Indian River Complex.
It’s the second straight title for the Thunderbiurds (13-3-1-1) and third overall. In the regular season, the teams played twice and tied 1-1 and Westbrook won 3-0.
“We turned it on a lot more today,cutting more toward the ball to get possession,” North Branford coach Babby Nuhn said. “Today the game was about ball possession and we’ve been working on that every game. Ali’s goal was a big goal for us. She is so strong and has been setting up goals all season.
“It’s great to win this title two straight years. But I’m just so glad we can keep this going for Patsy (late Haddam-Killingworth coach Patsy Kamercia). Patsy wanted this tournament to be held so badly and in 2014 we were able to get it started. I’m thinking a ot about her right now.”
The Thunderbirds dominated possession in the first half but could only come away with a 1-0 lead due to the Knights’ aggressive defense.
North Branford’s first chance to score in the game came 26:10 to go in the half. There was a scramble for the ball in front of goalie Lauren Horne. A North Branford player took a shot in front of the left post, but Westbrook defender Kendall Orlowski blocked the shot and cleared it away as the ball headed for the lower left corner of the net.
After the Knights denied the Thunderbirds on three penalty corners, a defensive mistake allowed the Thunderbirds to get the game’s first goal.
There was a battlefor the ball about 7 yards in front of Horne who decided to come out of the net. A North Branford player took a shot, Horne made a kick save and the ball right to Ali Barrett’s stick. She wristed a shot for the 1-0 lead 21:31 to go in the half.
“I was so nervous when I took that shot,” Barrett said. “I wasn’t sure it was going to make it into the net. But once it went in, we all got a sense that we would dominate the game. it gave us a little revenge after they tied us 1-1 and beat us 3-0 in the regular season.”
The Thunderbirds had one other quality shot in the half with 8:45 to go. Amy Raucci took a wide open shot in front of the right post. But the ball went wide.
While the Knights defense played well enough to keep it a one-goal game, the Thunderbirds defense was even better. The Knights worked the ball inside the 20 yard line four times and couldn’t get off a quality shot.
North Branford continued the pressure in the second half and eventually padded its lead.
Amy Raucci sent a perfect lead pass to a wide open Ava Galdenzi who wristed a shot from about eight yards out to give North Branford a 2-0 lead with 17:52 to go for the final score.
Jordan Regan had two saves for the Thunderbirds and Horne had five saves.