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Anything McHugh can do, Smith can do better. Smith can do anything better than McHugh. Putting on a Broadway-like show last week, Guilford's Riley Smith and Hand's Kara McHugh engaged in a back-and-forth battle that highlighted the latest rendition of the girls' lacrosse rivalry between the Indians and Tigers.
Guilford traveled to Madison on May 7 for a date with its longtime foe in Hand. The Tigers boasted all the recent bragging rights coming into the match, but it was the Indians who brought their high-powered offense and five-game winning streak to the turf field. In the end, Guilford and Smith got the curtain call as she tied the game late in regulation and the Indians went on to knock off the Tigers in overtime, 10-8.
Hand, which went to the Southern Connecticut Conference and Class M state championship games a year ago, is struggling by its own standards this season with a 6-7 record. However, for an Indians' team which hasn't topped the Tigers in the tenure of its seniors or Head Coach Craig Vedrani, the win was sweet-tasting, even if it was a little too close for comfort.
"This is incredible. Guilford lacrosse hasn't beaten Hand in a number of years," said co-captain Julianna Molloy, who scored in OT, as did Nikki Jewett and Leigh Rooney. "I know for myself and the seniors, we haven't beaten them since we were in 8th grade. We all wanted this so much and it was great to come out with a win."
The Indians (9-3) controlled the opening minutes of the first half, scoring their first goal at the 14:18 mark when Smith stole an outlet pass by Tigers' goalie Christy Forrest and found a cutting Rooney for a goal. But Hand would score twice inside of the half's final three minutes to take a 2-1 lead with just 1:26 left before the break. McHugh, who scored six goals in the game, scored her first to knot the score at 1-1 before setting up another tally by Jayna Concannon to give the Tigers a 2-1 edge.
"We wanted to win so badly so we knew if we could stop [McHugh] we'd be all set," said Rooney, another of Guilford's captains, who scored five goals in the game. "The whole thing was getting the draw, and once we got the ball and didn't let McHugh touch the ball, we were all set."
Smith didn't let the curtain drop on the first half with McHugh in the leading role. With under 10 seconds left before intermission, Smith got the ball in her own defensive zone, sprinting and weaving her way through defenders for nearly 70 yards before netting a goal as time expired to draw Guilford even at 2-2 going into halftime.
"I got the ball, I saw we had numbers down below, and I kept running," Smith said. "I heard my teammates yelling '13 seconds!' and I just kept running and running. I knew I had to shoot a low shot on Forrest and it went in."
Smith's goal was just a sneak peak at what was to come in the second half. Guilford quickly built a 6-3 lead in the opening eight minutes of the second half as Leigh Rooney scored three times with Smith adding another. Hand's goal during that stretch was scored by Paige Kronauer. But tired off watching the Indians celebrate goal after goal, McHugh decided it was time for her solo and wrestled the spotlight from the Indians. McHugh scored four unanswered goals of her own, three in a three-minute span, giving Hand its first lead since the first half at 7-6, netting her final tally with just 18.6 seconds left. Guilford had possession with a chance to take the lead, holding the ball for nearly four minutes in the offensive zone, but the Tigers' defense held strong and forced a turnover, leading to McHugh's strike in the final seconds.
"We were taking our time towards the end there when we had a three-goal lead," said Vedrani. "I think [Hand] got a couple turnovers there and came down and scored, then they got the draw and came down and scored again, then we had a real dandy there. That last goal McHugh scored that was a tough one."
Facing the unsettling reality that they could in fact let a three-goal lead and a potential win evaporate, the Indians knew they had to secure the draw after the final McHugh strike. Smith did just that by charging up the center of the field, where she was fouled about 20 yards out from the net with just 6.4 seconds left. Smith gathered herself on the free-position shot, scoring and tying the game with just two seconds remaining.
"When [McHugh] scored and we had 18 seconds left, I knew I had to get if off the draw and couldn't stop," Smith said. "[Scoring that last goal] was amazing. I have never felt anything like that before. All I can remember is hugging my teammates after."
Coach Vedrani felt that Smith was at her best when her team needed it the most.
"Riley Smith was on a mission tonight. She ran 65 yards in 13 seconds and scored a goal," said Vedrani. "And then at the very end of the game she scored with two seconds left. That kind of effort you don't coach so hats off to Riley there."
Smith's affection for the dramatic forced two three-minute overtime periods, and with the momentum at their backs, the Indians took full advantage. Molloy found a cutting Jewett just 44 seconds into the first overtime to give her team an 8-7 advantage, then Molloy took matters into her own hands by scoring her only goal of the game to make it 9-7. Both Rooney and McHugh would add free-position goals for their respective sides, but in the end, it was Guilford which took the final bow, 10-8.
"[Hand] played great tonight, and our girls played great, too-it was just a fantastic game," Vedrani said.