GREENWICH — Ryan Smith’s overtime goal lifted Sacred Heart Greenwich to a thrilling win over Greenwich Academy in the FAA Field Hockey Tournament final last season and Friday, it was Beth Yeager’s turn to step into the spotlight.
Like last season, overtime was needed to decide the title showdown between the Tigers and Gators and like last season, it was Sacred Heart’s fans that stormed the field in celebration at the game’s conclusion.
Yeager, a sophomore, tallied with 8:24 remaining in overtime, giving second-seeded Sacred Heart an exciting 2-1 win over top-seeded host Greenwich Academy in the championship game of the FAA Tournament.
The victory marked the second straight season the 17-1-1 Tigers topped the Gators for the FAA title. Greenwich Academy (15-2) posted a 3-2 regular-season win over Sacred Heart, just like last fall, the Tigers avenged the defeat with a triumph in the conference tournament final.
“When we play GA, it’s a rivalry game, so it’s always so exciting,” said Yeager, a midfielder. “This is better than winning by a lot. It was a hard-fought game that took a lot of effort for us to win it.”
On the game winning goal, which occurred 1:36 into the 7-vs.-7 overtime, Yeager controlled a pass, then carried the ball almost the length of the field down the left sideline, while GA defenders were quickly approaching her. She quickly set herself close on the left side close to the cage and drove a short shot past Gators’ freshman goalie Hamilton Doster, inside the left post.
“I knew it had to be done, so I kept going down the field once I had the ball,” Yeager said. “Our team is known for finding those passing combinations on 7-vs.-7 situations.”
Greenwich Academy, which received a goal from junior Grace Schulze, outshot Sacred Heart 9-2 and drew nine penalty corners. But the Tigers, who have yielded only five goals the entire season, limited the Gators to one goal by exhibiting sound penalty corner defense and strong defensive play overall.
“We worked the whole week on that — defending penalty corners,” Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe said. “We put certain players in certain positions and they made it happen. It’s an amazing win for our team.”
The Tigers were close to winning the well-attended matchup in regulation, but the Gators evened the score at 1-1 with 4:52 left in the second half.
Trailing 1-0, GA pressed hard to generate scoring chances and a surge in front of the goal led to the equalizer. Cutting to the goal, Schulze tallied from close in with plenty of traffic in front of the goal, making it 1-1. Sophomore Evelyn Barringer assisted on the tying tally.
“Everyone was working hard the whole game, unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce our way,” said Schulze, a co-captain. “It was a great overtime game — these are the games you remember. It was a tough outcome, but everyone played well.”
With Schulze, Katharine Glassmeyer, Julia Freedman and Sophie Freedman applying pressure in the circle and Maya Walker anchoring the backline, GA forced an array of penalty corners late in the second half, including three straight at one point. Yet goalie Olivia Caponiti, an eighth-grader, stood strong in goal, while receiving support from her defenders in front of her.
“Because we got so many corners, I think we needed to capitalize on them,” Schulze said. “But other than that, I think we did a good job of getting the ball into the circle.”
Morgan Smith (junior), MaryGrace Farrell (junior) and senior co-captain helped lead Sacred Heart’s defensive effort.
“Just playing together the entire time helped us, we knew this was going to be an extremely competitive game,” Hoover said. “Coming out with the proper mindset, never giving up, no matter what happened and working hard until the last second was our focus.”
Said Ryan Smith, who along with Yeager and senior Ellie Manriquez, paced the visitors offensively: “Our defense is our rock, I don’t think we could have done anything without them. At the beginning, we had trouble putting the ball in the net, but our defense kept us in the game.”
Following a scoreless first half, Yeager gave Sacred Heart a 1-0 advantage with 23:31 remaining in the second half. Awarded a penalty corner, the Tigers, with Yeager receiving the insert pass and sending a hard drive near the top of the circle that deflected off Doster’s pads and found its way inside the right post, making it 1-0.
“Winning last year was great, but this one feels even better,” Ryan Smith said. “We lost to them earlier in the season, which motivated us to come on their turf. When we came on to this field and took that first step, we knew we had to get it done.”
HANDLING THE PRESSURE
GA had the possession edge the majority of the first half, but didn’t score, despite coming close.
“I don’t think we ever faced that amount of pressure,” Manriquez said. “There were certainly times when we were nervous, but we talked to each other and reassured ourselves. We were connected on defense and making good passes.”
Greenwich Academy coach Jamie Brower: “That was a great field hockey game, both teams played so hard. It had really great moments for both teams and that’s how it goes sometimes. This is a chance for us to step back and evaluate what we are doing well and what we need to do better.”
SEASON NOT OVER YET
Friday’s FAA final didn’t mark the end of the season for Sacred Heart and GA. Both successful squads earned berths into next week’s NEPSAC Class A Tournament. Greenwich Academy won the NEPSAC title in 2017.
“This is what happened last year and during practice and our other games, we kept thinking how tough it was to lose and we used that to motivate ourselves to keep going,” Glassmeyer said. “We hope it works out the same way this year and we hope this will motivate us.”
SACRED HEART 2, GREENWICH ACADEMY 1
SACRED HEART 0 1 1 — 2
GREENWICH ACADEMY 0 1 0 — 1
Goals: SH — Beth Yeager; GA — Grace Schulze; Assists: GA — Evelyn Barringer; Goalies: SH — Olivia Caponiti (8 saves); GA — Hamilton Doster (0 saves).