Over the course of the regular season the Greenwich field hockey team appeared to be poised for a run at both the FCIAC and state championships with only two losses to their name. But in the win-or-go-home environment of the postseason, one off day can put an end to title aspirations.
The Cardinals began what they hoped would be a prosperous FCIAC run in the quarterfinals hosting No. 6 seed Warde, which was coming off a late-night victory of its own against Ridgefield to earn a shot at GHS. But any thought that the visitors would be exhausted from the day before or intimidated by the third-seeded Greenwich were quickly dismissed as the Mustangs jumped out to a two-goal advantage early in the second half. The Cardinals put forth a spirited second-half surge but in the end it wasn't enough as Warde stunned GHS 2-1 to advance to the semifinals.
According to Warde coach Jodie Shannon, her team came into the game with plenty of momentum and just as much confidence.
"During the regular season we were tied with them entering the half before they pulled away," Shannon said. "So we knew we were capable of playing with them. Coming off the big win we had last night we just rode that momentum and played another strong game today."
The Mustangs put Greenwich on notice in the first half when Fia Mancini took a pass from teammate Kelly Milicia and drilled a shot past Greenwich goalie Freddie Bancroft for a 1-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game. The score would remain a one-goal Warde advantage until Milicia delivered a goal of her own just over five minutes into the second half to boost the Warde lead to 2-0. That seemed to light a fire under the Greenwich offense as it answered back four minutes later when senior co-captain Sydney Cole found Erika Hvolbeck, who blasted a shot into the Warde goal. Greenwich co-captain Nicole Graham said that score helped reenergize the Cardinals, but they just couldn't get the equalizer they needed.
"I think we really needed that first goal help us build some momentum, but coming back from two goals down in this sport isn't easy," Graham said. "Truthfully, I think we all expected to come out of this game with a win, but we just weren't connecting on the field like we're accustomed to. We certainly didn't expect this result."
It did appear as though the Cardinals had completed the comeback with 1:20 remaining in the game as the ball came out of a sea of players in front of the Warde goal and somehow found its way into the back of the cage for what was initially called a game-tying score. However, after a brief conference the referees negated the goal, ruling that a Greenwich player had kicked the ball. It was a deflating call but not something that should define the game, GHS coach Ally Orrico said.
"You can't blame the officials for the outcome of this game," Orrico said. "We had plenty of opportunities and didn't capitalize on them. At the end of the day Warde outplayed us, especially when it came to winning 50/50 balls, and earned this win."
And while many will try to label the Mustangs as a Cinderella story, Shannon insists they don't want any glass slipper.
"These girls really don't like being referred to as underdogs because they feel they're capable of playing with anyone," Shannon said. "The playoffs come with plenty of pressure and that pressure can get to some teams. This team embraces these big games and has displayed the type of strength needed to overcome even the most pressure packed moments."
While Warde moves on to the semifinals to face the winner of the No. 7 Ludlowe and No. 2 Wilton game to be held today, the Cardinals now shift their sights to the other championship that is still within their reach.
"Coming into this season we wanted to end it having won the FCIAC and state tournament," Graham said. "Now that the FCIAC isn't an option, I think we'll fight that much harder for the state title."
No. 6 Warde 2, No. 3 Greenwich 1
WARDE 1 1-- 2
GREENWICH 0 1-- 1
Scoring: W--Kelly Milicia (1g,1a), Fia Mancini (1g), Erin Hines (1a); G--Erika Hvolbeck (1g), Sydney Cole (1a).
Goalies: W Katie Stepsis (4 saves); G Freddie Bancroft (4 saves)