GREENWICH — Scoring five unanswered goals during the first 5 minutes, 11 seconds of play, Sacred Heart couldn’t have scripted a better start to its lacrosse showdown against neighborhood rival Greenwich Academy on Saturday.
The early goals put GA in chase mode against a Tigers team that hasn’t been caught this so far this season.
Host Sacred Heart’s quick start held up in this duel of unbeaten squads, as junior attack Katie Keller scored a game-high six goals to power the Tigers to a 13-8 victory.
Also ignited by an effective defensive effort, Sacred Heart raised its record to 10-0 with their third win against the Gators in two seasons. The Tigers topped the Gators, 13-7, in last season’s regular-season meeting, then were victorious, 7-4, in the NEPSAC showcase event.
“It was so great to play a competitive game at home,” Sacred Heart coach Tara Clough said. “The enthusiasm and excitement around this game set the tone. Once the first few minutes passed and we scored those goals, we got into a rhythm. It was all about heart and hustle for us.”
Junior midfielder Amelia Sheehan recorded two goals and two assists, while junior attack Lily DeConcini had one goal and one assist for the Tigers, who saw senior midfielder Ryan Smith and Keller spark the squad from the draw control circle.
“This win feels amazing,” the Boston College-bound Smith said. “It was well deserved, we’ve worked really hard for this since the beginning of the season and today showed how hard we’ve been working.”
The home team had a substantial advantage in terms of possession time, forcing Greenwich Academy (9-1) to play defense the majority of the game — especially the first half.
“They had possession probably 75 percent of the game,” GA coach Melissa Anderson said. “What was really hard for us was the draws, which created possession time for them. Our defense was a little cautious at first, but had an awesome game and I’m really proud of them.”
Junior attack Eliza Bowman recorded a hat trick, while sophomore Paige Lipman and junior Grace Schulze each registered two goals for the Gators.
“We knew going in the draw was a strength for both of us, but we got into a little hole in the first half, because they capitalized on the draw,” Bowman said. “That was the challenge — digging ourselves out of the hole.”
DeConcini’s goal off a catch-and-shoot on a pass from behind the net gave the Tigers a 1-0 edge with 22:29 to go in the first half. Smith caused a turnover and moved the ball to Keller, who sprinted up field before converting a shot in transition, giving Sacred Heart a 2-0 advantage at the 21:45 mark.
The Tigers took a 3-0 lead when Keller put a low shot past GA junior goalie Cate Spaulding (eight saves) with 20:37 left in the opening half.
“We spent our entire practice yesterday (Friday) going through our plays step-by-step and we executed them well,” Keller said. “GA has a good defense and they put super high pressure on, so we had to move the ball quickly.”
Sheehan tallied twice off of dodges, putting Greenwich Academy in a 5-0 hole. Meanwhile sophomore goalie Rachel Keefe (five saves) made two key saves midway through the first half that kept GA off the scoreboard. Sisters Ryan and Morgan Smith gathered several ground balls throughout for the Tigers, who were received strong defensive play each half.
“Our defense helped spark our offense, that’s why we were able to score so many goals,” Ryan Smith said. “Our defense anchors us back there.”
Greenwich Academy’s first goal came when Bowman went top shelf with her shot at the 3:51 mark of the opening half, making it 5-1. Sacred Heart closed the first half with goals from Keller and sophomore attack Fiona Lewis to extend its advantage to 7-1.
Goals from Lipman and junior attack Tessa Brooks brought GA to 7-3 with 14:44 left in the second half, but Morgan Smith’s free position tally gave the Tigers an 8-3 cushion.
“The fast start to the game was very significant, since we were up by five throughout the game,” Morgan Smith said. “We worked hard to maintain that lead and we did a great job of doing that.”
Following Schulze’s tally, which cut Sacred Heart’s lead to 8-4, the Tigers went on a 4-0 run to open a 12-4 advantage before GA scored four of the game’s final five goals.
“The second half, we had a lot of goals in a little amount of time, so that was good for us,” Bowman said.