Wethersfield - Down a goal, Stonington was trying everything it could to tie the game in the second half Saturday.
Libby Morrison came charging into the penalty circle, flying out of bounds as she tried to direct the ball toward the goal. Stephanie Stearns was alone in front of the cage with the opposing goalie. Chloe Slater got shots off of penalty corners. All to no avail.
"Twelve minutes in or so, I called a timeout and said, 'We're knocking on this door. Keep pushing, keep pushing. It will come," Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio said.
"I think they believed that. I still do believe that. It should have been there."
Instead, it was fourth-seeded Haddam-Killingworth which won the Class S state field hockey championship at Wethersfield High School, beating No. 6 Stonington 2-0.
The Bears outshot H-K 13-10, 10-2 in the second half, but couldn't solve Cougars freshman goalie Meghan Cerino or her counterpart Taylor Burger, who added two clutch defensive saves.
It was the first championship appearance for Stonington since 1991 and the Bears (15-5) were bidding to win their first title since 1987 when Tucchio was a freshman on the team.
It was the third Class S title for Haddam-Killingworth (17-2-1), all under 37-year coach Patsy Kamercia, who was inducted Thursday into the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Hall of Fame. H-K beat Stonington in overtime during the regular season, 1-0.
"It was definitely frustrating," said Stonington's Morrison, the team's leading scorer with 20 goals and 12 assists. "It's good to know we didn't give up. You could tell by the things they were saying we were getting in their heads.
"I do feel like until the clock hit :00, we kept going."
H-K took a 1-0 lead with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining in the first half on a goal by Kiley Anderson, with no one from the defense able to get a stick on the ball before it darted past Stonington goalkeeper Annie Knizeski.
It was one of several momentum shifts in the half, with H-K starting out with a series of corners and pushing the Bears back on their heels. But starting with Stonington's first corner at the 20:29 mark, with Morrison passing to a wide open Slater for a shot, the Bears began coming hard at the Cougars with their own pressure.
And the second half was no different.
With 16:25 remaining, Morrison was dribbling in when Cerino came out of the cage to make a stop, diving in front of Morrison. And so it went, with H-K misdirecting several free hits in a row out of bounds to give the ball back to Stonington with time growing shorter.
With 4:48 left, however, following a Stonington corner that was broken up by the Cougars, H-K generated a counter-attack of which the end result was a goal by Jennifer Venuti, making it 2-0.
"Their keeper was outstanding," Tucchio said. "She made diving saves. There was a couple times I was hoping for that ball to drop. We got behind everybody. We were putting direct pressure on their keeper. She saved the second shot. She saved the initial shot. She saved everything. ... I knew we could punch back, but it just didn't happen."
Cerino, who also shut out top-ranked Lauralton Hall of Milford in the semifinals, made 11 saves. Knizeski had six for Stonington, which reached the championship by blanking No. 2 Immaculate of Danbury 3-0 earlier in the week.
"It was a great season," said Stonington's Slater, a senior captain and a first team all-state pick. "I'm sad to be leaving, but Jenna always does a great job with these girls. I know they'll be back here."