GUILFORD — MJ Santa Barbara picked the perfect time to have her best game of the season.
Santa Barbara scored six goals and Sydney Widlitz had seven saves to lead No. 3 Guilford to a 14-4win over No. 10 St. Joseph in the CIAC Class M girls lacrosse semifinals at Guilford High on Tuesday.
Guilford will play No. 4 Barlow in the Class M final on Saturday at Bunnell at a time to be announced.
“I didn’t know what to expect tonight or how this game would go,” Santa Barbara said. “We all worked so hard for this, so hard in practice. To contribute with six goals is so exciting for me. This is definitely my best game.
“To get to the final is so exciting for the whole team, it’s a great opportunity. When we were behind 1-0, no one was concerned. We knew we would be okay.”
St. Joseph played a tenacious defense the first five minutes of the game and forced six quick turnovers. One of those turnovers paid off. Isabelle Casucci scored to give St. Joseph a 1-0 lead with 21:18 to go in the first half. But then it was all the Grizzlies, who scored eight unanswered goals, five by Santa Barbara, to take control of the game.
“We were a little nervous the first part of the game, and the weather (constant rain) didn’t help,” Guilford coach Wendy Epke said. “But then the girls settled in and stayed composed and focused. Santa Barbara really stepped up for us tonight. She has had a great year but really put herself in position to score.
“Our defense played great and made a big difference tonight too. It was great to see that part of our game step up. Our goalie came up with some big saves too.”
Santa Barbara gave the Grizzlies an 8-1 lead with 22:24 to go in the second half. Casucci scored again for St. Joseph to cut the lead to 8-2 with 20:42 to go in the game. But six unanswered goals and a 14-2 lead effectively put the game away.
“We’re a young team and still learning,” St. Joseph coach Leeland Gray said. “The 1-0 lead gave us a little confidence. But we didn’t capitalize on 4-5 chances we had.”
St. Joseph finishes the season 13-7.
Samantha Miller ended up with five saves for St. Joseph.
“It’s exciting to get to the final; it’s the first time we’ve been to a final,” Epke said. “We’ll get back to practice and work on a few things and be as prepared as we can be for Barlow. So many of these girls have played together a long time from youth lacrosse on up. It’s great to see them progress, develop and have all their hard work pay off.”