Thun­der­birds are No. 1 for a rea­son

North Bran­ford re­mains un­beaten with vic­tory over Bears in field hockey semis

The Day - - SPORTS - By VICKIE FULK­ER­SON

East Lyme — It's Co­lette Dre­her's job on the Ston­ing­ton High School field hockey team to fly out of the goal cage on op­pos­ing penalty cor­ners in an at­tempt to break up the play.

“The shots come quick but we work on it all the time. Every day we work de­fen­sive cor­ners. We've got­ten pretty good at them,” Dre­her said. “The di­rect shot is al­ways the hard­est part. Some teams have tricky plays they run, they trick us up a lit­tle.”

Then came what Dre­her saw from North Bran­ford on Tues­day night in the Class S state tour­na­ment semi­fi­nals at East Lyme High School.

“Their di­rect shots worked pretty well,” Dre­her said. “Those weren't tricky. Those were scary.”

Top-seeded North Bran­ford scored two sec­ond-half goals — the sec­ond by Amelia Raucci on a di­rect shot off a cor­ner which she slammed into the back of the cage with a thud — to beat Ston­ing­ton 2-0.

There were tears from the Ston­ing­ton play­ers, but noth­ing but ad­mi­ra­tion for an un­beaten North Bran­ford team (20-0-1), led by veteran coach Babby Nuhn, which ad­vanced to Satur­day's cham­pi­onship game to meet No. 2 Granby Me­mo­rial.

It is North Bran­ford's first ap­pear­ance in a state final since win­ning the Class S cham­pi­onship in 2006.

North Bran­ford lim­ited the usu­ally dy­namic Ston­ing­ton of­fense, which scored 80 goals this sea­son, to just one shot and amassed 13 cor­ners to none for the East­ern Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence cham­pion Bears (17-4). Ston­ing­ton was mak­ing its fifth semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance in six years.

“They're a beau­ti­ful team,” Ston­ing­ton coach Jenna Tuc­chio said of North Bran­ford. “My kids played a good game. They played hard. They used all the skills that they know how to use. But North Bran­ford was just tremen­dous. The speed … they were light­ning fast. Their re­ceiv­ing skills were just beau­ti­ful, I mean gor­geous. Just they're a tremen­dous team.”

“I'm root­ing for them (in the fi-

nal),” Dre­her said. “They're a re­ally good team.”

Ston­ing­ton had its only shot early in the game, a ball which al­most seemed to get be­hind North Bran­ford goalie Jor­dan Re­gan.

Just be­fore half­time, how­ever, North Bran­ford un­loaded a series of four penalty cor­ners, three in­side the final minute. Ston­ing­ton cleared them all, one, fi­nally, af­ter time had elapsed. Yet North Bran­ford never let go of that mo­men­tum, keep­ing Ston­ing­ton on the de­fen­sive through­out the sec­ond half.

“Erin (Craig) dove into the goal and saved one of them,” Dre­her said. “There's not a day when Al­iza (Bell, Ston­ing­ton goalie) is not amaz­ing.” Bell fin­ished with 12 saves. North Bran­ford had its first cor­ner in the sec­ond half just 45 sec­onds in and be­gan ham­mer­ing away once again.

The Thun­der­birds struck with 21 min­utes, 28 sec­onds left in the half, with Ava Galdenzi scor­ing on a re­bound off Bell. The final goal came at the 8:38 mark, scored by Raucci on an as­sist by Galdenzi.

“I think they just were quicker,” Tuc­chio said. “They were flat out faster. My kids were do­ing ev­ery­thing they could to gen­er­ate some at­tack. Their speed was un­be­liev­able. … I could tell they were fast (when I scouted them), but they didn't show this kind of speed.”

Tuc­chio shared an em­brace with Nuhn fol­low­ing the game.

“Jenna and I are very good friends,” said Nuhn, in her 44th sea­son. “We re­spect each other as coaches and as hu­man be­ings.”

Nuhn char­ac­ter­ized this as a young North Bran­ford team, which has been work­ing tire­lessly to reach the final.

“We're truly one for all, all for one. We don't have any su­per­stars; we never be­lieve in that,” Nuhn said. “… We needed to get our en­thu­si­asm go­ing (in the sec­ond half). We al­ways be­lieve it's a full game. I'm su­per proud of them.” v.fulk­er­son@the­day.com

TIM MARTIN/THE DAY

Ston­ing­ton’s Han­nah Pratt reaches up and at­tempts to de­flect a pass dur­ing the first half of Tues­day night’s Class S state field hockey semi­fi­nal game against North Bran­ford at East Lyme. The No. 4 Bears were elim­i­nated by the top-seeded and un­beaten Thun­der­birds 2-0.

TIM MARTIN/THE DAY

Ston­ing­ton goalie Al­iza Bell, right, is com­forted by team­mates Col­lette Dre­her, cen­ter, and Mary Wil­liams af­ter the Bears were beaten by No. 1 North Bran­ford 2-0 in Tues­day’s Class S field hockey semi­fi­nalls.

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