East Catholic Falls Just Short in State Finals

By Danny Atkinson 

MILFORD-Nine minutes into the second half of Saturday’s Class S girls lacrosse championship game at Jonathan Law High School, East Catholic appeared like they could be easily defeated by defending champion New Fairfield. The third-seeded Eagles had just fallen behind 8-2 on Sydney Colesworthy’s goal off a pass from Nicole Berry, the fourth-seeded Rebels third goal in 3:16. East Catholic’s players could have given up hope against New Fairfield’s attack with the limited amount of time remaining. However, this selfless group would never do so.

Immediately following Colesworthy’s goal, Eagles head coach Brian Wilcox called a timeout and told his players it was still possible for them to rally and win. Led by senior Alexa Weber and junior Macy Wilcox, they showed he was right, staging a memorable late game comeback which fell just short.

East Catholic (17-3) began to play more efficient offense and maintained its quality defense, allowing it to regularly control possession and tempo. Beginning with a goal by Wilcox with 12:50 remaining, the Eagles scored four goals in just under nine minutes against goalie Rachel Mikolay to pull into within 8-6. Ultimately, they ran out of time against the Rebels (17-3), losing 9-6 in the end.

“I thought we had it,” Wilcox said. “We dug deep, and that’s just how we are. I thought, for sure. We almost came back though and made it a heck of a game here at the end. It was really exciting and we have a lot to be proud of.”

The three wins East Catholic earned in the S tournament against Waterford, Stonington and Canton were the first tournament victories in program history. It had lost in the first round the past two seasons.

After Wilcox (2 goals) scored off a pinpoint pass by Weber (3 goals, 1 assist) with 4:01 remaining to cut the deficit to two, the Eagles had a ton of momentum. In the final minutes, New Fairfield displayed great individual and team play.

The Rebels offense patiently played keep-away against the visibly tired defenders. East Catholic eventually regained control of the ball and got it to Weber, who appeared to have a great scoring opportunity as she streaked down the right sideline. A quartet of defenders quickly converged around her and knocked the ball out with roughly 1:30 remaining, with Colesworthy snatching it off the ground. Seconds later, Nicole Berry (3 goals) secured the win by escaping from defenders and beating goalie Keily Callahan.

“At that point, we just had to win the draw. That was the only way to get the ball back since this is a big field and its hard to chase them down in that kind of environment, but we did the best we could with it,” Wilcox said when asked about the final minutes.

East Catholic’s rally from an 8-2 deficit was an excellent display of all-around play. Wilcox kick-started the comeback with an unassisted goal set up by the junior’s speed. While the Eagles were unable to immediately follow up with another goal the offense continued to be more aggressive while the defense denied any Rebel scoring opportunities.

East Catholic needed to capitalize on good scoring opportunities and it finally did so by scoring twice in 21 seconds to make it  8-5. First, Pasqualoni scored on a free position shot with 8:19 remaining, beating Mikolay low, and then Weber scored on the following possession. The Bryant recruit rounded the goal before firing in a high shot.

Wilcox discussed the offense’s strategy and play during the comeback.

“We knew we had to get the ball into Alexa’s hands,” he said. “They played great defense against her and it was tough, so we just focused on getting her involved in the offense as best we could. I don’t really have to call a lot of plays and sets. These guys just dig down and know what they got to do. Cami made some rocket shots.”

“When we got to the second half, we knew what we were capable of doing against their defense. We just clicked and took time to realize what we must do to score,” Weber said. “Scoring goals gives us energy,  so I was aiming for doing that on my shots.”

The East Catholic offense was making simultaneously displaying its athleticism and cohesiveness. Both during the rally and throughout the afternoon, the Eagles regularly interfered with New Fairfield passes and kept up with their speedy attackers, forcing a handful of important turnovers. They did an especially strong job crowding the area in front and around it and mag New Fairfield take difficult shots. The Rebels took 32 while converting on just 8.

Callahan was there to make clutch saves, particularly in the second half. The senior, who finished with 9 saves, made a group of athletic ones in the final 10 minutes.

“I can’t say enough great things about Callahan,” Wilcox said. “Our playoff run has a lot to do with her. She just has quick hands and phenomenal athleticism and a great attitude.”

Callahan, who has a scholarship to Sienna, discussed the defense’s performance in the second half as well as her own performance.

“They stepped it up and knew what they had to do. They played like they normally do and held them off, and it made my job easier. I’m pretty proud of my performance and did the best I could.”

New Fairfield shut down the East Catholic attack for the opening 37 minutes of the game. The Rebels took a 5-1 lead into halftime and went up 8-2 by limiting the Eagles to very few quality scoring opportunities. Their defenders were able to face-guard Weber and others and rarely allow them to get open, and consistently kept East Catholic from beating them down the field. New Fairfield forced the Eagles into 13 first half turnovers and 19 for the game, with the champions also grabbing more ground balls. When the Eagles obtained good opportunities, they regularly took inaccurate shots or were denied by Mikolay.

Not surprisingly, Weber was the source of her team’s first two goals. After Berry finally scored the game’s first goal 13 minutes in, Weber tied it 24 seconds later on an unassisted shot after the offense won a draw and quickly beat the defense down the field. She then scored the first goal of the second half 5:29 in on a free possession shot, beating Mikolay to her left high to make the score 5-2.

“I knew their defense was super aggressive and played full-field man to man defense from start to finish, and they delivered exactly what I was expecting,” Wilcox said. “You can only prepare so much for a team like that.”

Berry and Dominique DeMarsico propelled the New Fairfield offense as it built its 8-2 lead. In addition to scoring both the first and last goals of the game, Berry scored her second with 2:57 remaining in the first half, giving the Rebels a 4-1 advantage. DeMarsico scored the team’s third goal with 6:37 to go in the half off a pass from Berry, and then scored consecutive goals at the 19:16 and 17:52 marks of the second half despite New Fairfield being down a player during the stretch, making the score 7-2. Katelyn Sousa and Reagan Tenaglia also scored for the Rebels.

Weber and Callahan served as captains and part of the core group of seniors who helped build the Eagles program into one of the best in the CCC and Class S over the past four seasons. The pair made clear how proud they were of the 2018 squad and its success, and how much they cherished the relationship between the seniors and their ability to build the program.

“As the year went on, everyone stepped up and did what they had to do,” Weber said. “We’ve never come close to making it this far, and it’s a crazy journey for us. I don’t care that we lost, we made it this far. It’s amazing for us. We never expected to be here.”

“The seniors are definitely my best friends I’m never going to forget all my years with them and love them so much. I definitely feel we made a legacy together. Our first year was Coach’s first, and he helped us build it up. I feel this is a legacy that can be carried on in the coming years at East,” Weber said.

“I feel like everyone on this team just loves each other so much,” Callahan said. “We’re especially a really close-knit group of seniors. Together with Coach, we’ve built this program up. No one expected us to be here, what we did was pretty amazing.”

Wilcox also talked about what he will remember the most about the 2018 team and the seniors, as well as the how the program can build on the season going forward.

“I have 10 seniors on the team and they’re really good leaders, and I have three who are my cornerstones in (Olivia) Pariszeau, Callahan and Alexa. They were able to bring the rest of us alone with great leadership. I’ve been saying these two things all year: our team chemistry is fabulous, and the girls are so selfless,” he said.

“I know it’s very hard to get back to this point, but I think we have talent up and down and guys who can step in. We’re going to miss the seniors, but I know we’ll have great team chemistry and selfless attitudes that we’ll help us through.”

 

 

 

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