Stonington edges East Lyme 1-0 in ECC field hockey final
Stonington — Aliza Bell sat out last season with an ankle injury, not even giving her the opportunity as understudy to all-state goalie Cameron Dreher on the Stonington High School field hockey team.
"She didn't practice a minute," Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio said of Bell, a junior. "You might as well say she was the manager, only without the managerial duties."
That's what made the moment Bell's name was announced as Most Valuable Player of the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship game Thursday night so much fun to watch, Bell's teammates erupting into a joyful cheer.
Bell, still learning as she goes, made 11 saves in Stonington's 1-0 victory over East Lyme, earning the shutout as the Bears won their second ECC tournament in as many seasons it has existed. Hannah Pratt, a senior forward, scored the game's only goal with 16 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first half, her fifth goal in two days after four the night before in a 5-1 semifinal win over Woodstock Academy.
"She's a competitor," Tucchio said of Bell, who waged a goaltending battle with East Lyme's Lydia Swan (15 saves), both goalies going flat out for diving saves. "She's still learning what it's like to be under that pressure. You can say field hockey there's 11 players out there, basketball there's five players, but nothing compares to being in that goal. She's still learning to be in a championship situation."
"One hundred percent, I'm surprised to be MVP," Bell said. "It was pretty special. It's a big responsibility (to take over for Dreher). I just stayed humble. ... This team is one of the best I've ever been on. We have such a great community."
Stonington (15-3) outshot East Lyme 19-15.
East Lyme, however, had the first real opportunity to score and seemingly took advantage of it, pushing an apparent goal through off a penalty corner just 4:29 into the game. The goal was waved off due to a high stick.
Stonington took a timeout just before Pratt scored off an assist from Trinity Lennon.
Bell made three straight saves a few minutes later as a result of an East Lyme corner, diving on the final one. Swan then opened the second half on the defensive, stopping a shot fired by Stonington midfielder Erin Craig and two more in rapid succession.
East Lyme (9-9), had the ball, firing at Bell once again as time expired. The Vikings edged Waterford 2-1 in the semifinals to reach their first final.
"I think they played awesome," East Lyme coach Kristy Behbehani said. "We had one taken back, we had one hit the post (in the second half). At least that one (that was nullified) was early enough we could come back and fight for it. I hope we play with the same fight when we have our first state game next week."
Pratt, a senior, had seven goals and two assists for Stonington prior to Wednesday night's matchup with Woodstock, when she started her scoring onslaught with 5 seconds remaining before halftime. She then scored three more in the second half.
Pratt, though, took her run of five goals in two days in stride.
"Our plays all just came together," Pratt said. "It all came together at the end; we've been practicing this all season."
"Our opponents will key on Miranda (Arruda) because she's our leading scorer (18 goals, 4 assists) or key in on Trinity (Lennon) because she's our first team All-ECC player (15 goals, 7 assists)," Tucchio said. "But we have 10-11 kids that all share scoring. We kind of spread the wealth.
"Hannah's going to get you."
Tucchio, whose team will find out its next opponent when the Class S state tournament pairings are announced Friday, said her team looked a little bit flat in the final, having played the night before. She said the big picture will remain the same, but now the time comes to start micromanaging a few of the little things headed to state level.
"I'm super-excited," Tucchio said. "I love the whole idea of anticipating each game."
2017 ECC FIELD HOCKEY AWARDS
Following are the 2017 Eastern Connecticut Conference award winners in field hockey:
First team — Offense: Zoe Pearse (Fitch/Ledyard), Trinity Lennon (Stonington), Caroline Healy (East Lyme), Cassidy Susi (Waterford); Midfield: Abigail Flakus (Stonington), Katie Durkee (East Lyme), Alexis Smith (Killingly); Defense: Colette Dreher (Stonington), Alyson Sanford (Waterford), Katrina Fortes (Killingly); Goalie: Erin Ritter (Fitch/Ledyard).
Honorable mention — Offense: Maci Silvia (Fitch/Ledyard), Brianna Caffery (Killingly), Miranda Arruda (Stonington); Midfield: Julia Bates (East Lyme), Allison Toppa (NFA), Erin Craig (Stonington), Olivia Feliciano (Stonington), Chloe McCue (Waterford); Defense: Maya Rose (East Lyme), Hannah Reynolds (Woodstock), Wanjiru Gatheru (Woodstock).
Sportsmanship — Annalise McCaffrey (East Lyme), Pilarose Bailon (Fitch), Katrina Fortes (Killingly), Rylee Reed (NFA), Madison Cassell (Stonington), Kaylee Wilcox (Waterford), Julia Bibeault (Woodstock).
Scholar-athlete — Kaitlin Kluge (East Lyme), Lily Johnson (Fitch), Alexis Smith (Killingly), Vivian Tang (NFA), Morgan Lestinsky (Stonington), Nina Bentley (Waterford), Charlotte Powell (Woodstock).
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