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Stonington field hockey tops Avon 1-0 on a corner after time expires

Stonington — From evolution to execution, it was the perfect play, one which Stonington High School field hockey coach Jenna Tucchio had already watched on instant replay a couple times a short while later.

Sam Harris tipped in the game-winning goal on a penalty corner with no time remaining late Saturday afternoon, assisted by Sophia Fernholz, as the Bears edged Avon 1-0 in a nonleague game in which they were outshot 6-2.

With time having already expired, Dillon Griscom put the penalty corner in play from the left side of the goal cage, sending it up top to Sandy McGugan for the handoff to Fernholz. Fernholz maneuvered for a wide open shot and Harris' tip hit the goal cage with a thud, sending Stonington's players and even the coaches into a celebration that was World Series-worthy.

"That's a really high-pressure situation," Tucchio said of what made this particular victory so meaningful for the Bears, who are 10-2 overall. "It's the only penalty corner we got the whole game; we literally, literally had one opportunity this whole game to score.

"The fact that they stayed calm, stayed collected and executed that, I think that was this moment of 'We did this. We can do this. We're in control.' I want them to feel empowered. I want them to feel confidence in every situation. I think they all felt that at that very moment, 'We can do this.'

"I just think that's a great feeling."

Stonington scored the game-winning goal on a corner in Thursday night's 2-1 Eastern Connecticut Conference victory over East Lyme, too, on a shot by Anne Drago assisted by Fernholz. That kept the Bears perfect in the ECC at 8-0.

Against Avon, one of Stonington's nonleague tests and the final one prior to next month's state tournament, Stonington's defense was under pressure late with Avon being awarded a corner with about six and a half minutes remaining and continuing to attack. The Bears got a defensive clear from McGugan on the corner.

After that the timeline looked like this: With 3:00 remaining, Tucchio subbed forward Maddie Mendez back into the game. With 30 seconds left, Mendez made a run down the right side, resulting in a whistle which gave Stonington the ball.

Fernholz, the Bears' right back, was summoned by Tucchio to move forward and take the free hit and Fernholz drew a push on the ensuing play, giving the Bears the penalty corner opportunity. Time expired as Stonington set up the corner — in field hockey a corner continues until the defense controls the ball or the ball is cleared from the penalty area, regardless of how much time is remaining.

"It was fortuitous for sure that we got that call. They had been getting those calls in their area," Tucchio said of the corner. "It was fortuitous we got a call in time to get the corner."

Bears win.

"We couldn't lose on that play. We had absolutely nothing to lose," Fernholz said. "I had a lot of faith in my teammates and it connected. It connected really well. ... This is a huge game for us. This was our last out-of-conference game. We came to play today. They were a great opponent. That definitely gets us ready for the state tournament.

Stonington lost last Saturday's nonleague game at North Branford, unable to capitalize on a number of corners, Tucchio said, a loss which Fernholz admitted "stung" a little bit.

On Saturday, the Bears got their eighth shutout of the season behind backs Drago and Fernholz and the goalie tandem of Avery Slocum and Madi Allard. Stonington has given up just six goals this season, two in the last nine games.

"The defense played great today, Anne played great today," Tucchio said. "(Avon) is an excellent team and we knew we were going to have a tough battle today and we looked forward to that; we look forward to having those hardfought battles."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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