WETHERSFIELD — One of the strengths of the Cheshire field hockey team this season was its stifling defense. The Rams entered the Class L championship game against Staples with 19 shutouts.
Cheshire coach Eileen Wildermann had her team focused on playing a defensive game and it worked in a scoreless first half as the Rams denied the Wreckers on 11 penalty corners.
But Staples continued to dominate possession in the second half, the penalty corners kept coming and the pressure proved to be too much. Kyle Kirby scored twice off penalty corners from the top of the circle to give No. 2 Staples a 2-0 win over No. 1 Cheshire and its third straight Class L title.
The Wreckers (22-1) ended up with 16 penalty corners, while the Rams (21-2) had none and Cheshire goalie Lexie Hemstock made 14 saves to keep her team in the game. Staples goalie Bridget Mulloy didn’t need to make any saves.
“It was definitely frustrating in that first half, having all those penalty corners and not scoring,” Kirby said. “At halftime our coach (Ian Tapsall) told us not to dribble the ball and to take quicker shots on the penalty corners. That’s what I did on both my goals.
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“It feels good to contribute to the win. I’ve been part of all three of our championships and to win a third time is really awesome.”
In the first half, the Wreckers dominated possession and the Rams got the ball inside the Staples 30 yard line only three times without a shot on goal.
Here’s the caveat — the tough Rams’ defense allowed only one quality shot on goal in the half. The shot came with 10:25 to go in the half off the ninth penalty corner. Hannah Paprotna took the restart and sent the ball to Kirby. She had a wide open sho,t but Cheshire’s Mikayla Crowley got a stick on the ball, blocked it and cleared the ball away.
“Yeah, that first half was frustrating when they kept denying us on the penalty corners,” Tapsall said. “We were a little surprised to see Cheshire play such a defensive style of play that early in the game.
“I wasn’t concerned and at halftime I told the girls to keep their foot on the pedal and keep taking shots because I knew a goal or two would come. We took quicker shots on the penalty corners and that’s what helped. Kirby has such a quick shot and her lateral movement are the things that make her so good. I’m so happy for the girls.”
In the second half, Kirby converted a goal off the team’s third penalty corner in the half. As soon as the ball touched her stick she one-timed a shot into the lower right corner for the 1-0 lead with 18:17 to go in the game. Kirby scored again off the Wreckers’ next penalty corner, taking a pass from Hannah Paprotna and scoring inside the left post.
“We played a defensive game on purpose and our girls played their game plan perfectly in the first half,” Wildermann said. “We have a very good defense and it was working so well. But once they got the first goal we had to open things up more and that allowed them to get their second goal.
“I’m really proud of the way our girls played.”