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Stonington - It was in the final few minutes, when the game was tied, the possessions being swapped sometimes within a matter of seconds, that East Lyme coach Phil Schneider found things to be "nervewracking."
In the end, it was a victory befitting an East Lyme High School girls' lacrosse program which had won seven straight Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championships coming into this one. The second-seeded Vikings fought for it, down three goals at halftime against previously undefeated Stonington, the top seed, and won 7-5.
Stonington beat East Lyme earlier in the season, way back in April and appeared, with a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, like it would do so again.
Then came the second half late Friday night.
The game didn't begin until 8:45 p.m. due to thunder and lightning in the area. The East Lyme boys had already sewn up their fourth straight title. No one wanted to wait another day to play the highly anticipated matchup between the ECC Large Division champion (East Lyme) and the Small Division champ (Stonington).
East Lyme trailed 4-1.
"One of the big things we've talked about this year is 'make it important,'" said East Lyme junior Belle Kenny, named winner of the James J. Courtney Award as the game's Most Valuable Player.
"Passing and catching. Make it important. We've done this for years. We were just hyped up and kind of frazzled. We were going in a little manic."
Kenny said the Vikings (13-5) took a much calmer approach in the second half, doing a better job solving a zone defense from Stonington which features a pair of six-footers at the top. East Lyme remained patient and found its cutters inside.
Kenny scored to make it 5-3 with 19 minutes, 36 seconds remaining and Gabby Fiengo pulled the Vikings within 5-4 when a ball hit a Stonington defender and rolled into the goal. Following a Stonington timeout, East Lyme's Riley Aspinwall tied the game 5-5 with 16:16 still to play.
That's when things got tense, as each team had its chances, each goalie, East Lyme's Alex Rose and Stonington's Lexi Bucko turning away shots. With 8:37 to play, Fiengo had a free position shot stopped by Bucko. That was followed closely by an exchange of turnovers 16 seconds apart.
It was East Lyme's Kendall Roberts, the leading scorer in Wednesday's semifinal victory, who scored the game-winner with 3:41 to play, sidearming a ball into the net. Kenny sealed it with an insurance goal at the 2:50 mark, finding herself alone with the goalie.
Kenny finished with three goals for the Vikings and Fiengo two.
Stonington (17-1) had five different scorers, getting its only goal of the second half from Val Muller on a free position shot that made it 5-2.
"They are excited. They battled against a quality Stonington team," Schneider said. "It's important for us to compete. We do put emphasis on it. They wanted to be that next class (to win a title)."
Kenny said the Vikings tried not to focus on the "hype" surrounding Stonington's unbeaten season.
"We wanted to play our game, do our best," she said.
After one delay, the game was only 46 seconds old when it was stopped again. When it was resumed, Stonington got a quick goal from Jenny Sieczkiewicz and a second one 26 seconds later when Sieczkiewicz won the draw and found an open Hannah Johnson, who made it 2-0.
Emily Cassata scored to make it 3-0, too, but the Bears couldn't generate enough offense to stay with the Vikings in the second half.
"We almost did everything we wanted," Stonington coach Jeff Medeiros said. "Their defense stepped up big. They're the champions because of it.
"… It stings like a son of a gun. You heard me talk about it all year. I don't get to be the UConn girls' (undefeated basketball team). But we're not done. This is just a chapter in the book. We're not done. We still have a goal in mind."