West Hartford’s Conard and Hall high school field hockey teams faced off in the final game of the season Thursday night, which ended with two goals scored in the final 15 seconds.
By Paul Palmer
Rarely does a game life up to the hype. Thursday’s season finale between Hall and Conard in field hockey not only lived up to the hype, but it also crossed over into the realm of classic games.
The Titans came in ranked No. 7 in Class L, winners of 5 of 6 and 9 of their last 10, and 12-3-0-0 overall. The Red Wolves were No. 8 In Class L and had not lost since the second game of the season, sporting a 10-1-3-1 record. When it was all said and done, it was Hall with a 2-1 win in overtime.
From the start the contest felt like a tournament game, especially with the CCC regular season title on the line. The top players from each side put on a clinic for the entire game – which was sent to OT when Conard scored from an untimed corner after regulation had expired with Hall leading 1-0.
Hall junior Ellie Goldstein is one of the most skilled ball handlers and shooters in Connecticut. It’s no secret that the opposition needs to try and contain her to have a chance.
Conard used a supporting system and chased Goldstein around the pitch, doing everything they could to limit her shots. In the early going, Goldstein had two good scoring chances that were not converted. The first was tipped wide by a Conard defender, the other was knocked away by Conard goalie Lilly Grose. The junior goalie played a stellar game, going high and low to keep the ball out of the net.
The Red Wolves’ Mason Capone setup Kate Parker off a corner just under 5 minutes in, but Parker’s shot went wide. Grose would deny Goldstein’s rising shot about 4 minutes later, but Goldstein’s skill and effort would finally be rewarded.
Off a corner, she controlled the ball in the circle, moved herself into position, and ripped a backhanded shot into the goal to put Hall up 1-0. “I think she has a stick in her hand all day, 365 days a year,” said Hall coach Jenna Behan of her junior striker.
It remained a one-goal game as the second quarter began, but Conard was about to start imposing its will on the Titans. Maddie Campbell, who played another strong game, shot just wide while Conard had an advantage. The Red Wolves were poised and worked the ball well to keep Hall pinned in its own zone for much of the 15 minutes.
If not for a strong, coordinated defensive effort from Kathleen Culmo, Molly McHugh, and Dawson Bondi in front of goalie Addie O’Connell, Conard could have capitalized on some great scoring chances. “Our connection on defense was really good,” said McHugh. “We worked as a unit today.”
As the second half began, fans on both sides began to pick up their intensity, as did the players. Conard again controlled things from the start of the third quarter. Campbell and Parker in particular were strong on the ball and were critical to the Red Wolves’ control and switching from defense to offense.
Hall goalie O’Connell would be called on to make a series of kick saves into the middle part of the third as Conard pressed the issue. When Hall did mount an attack, the Conard defense stiffened. “My defensive unit is one of the strongest units,” said Red Wolves coach Sara Witmer. “They do a great job.”
With no score in the third, the game entered what everyone thought would be its final 15 minutes with Hall leading 1-0. In the opening 30 seconds, Parker had a great run from the defensive half into the Hall zone before Culmo managed to get a poke check on the ball and clear it from danger. Goldstein would have two good chances to increase the Hall lead, but Grose was there to kick one out and see the other sail over the crossbar on a rising backhander. At the other end, Conard had chances on back-to-back corners, but O’Connell and the defense were up to the task.
With just 1:50 to play in regulation Goldstein appeared to have sealed the win when she scored – but the officials disallowed the goal for an infraction. Conard fans – mostly in the student section – began chanting “overrated” towards Goldstein.
As the clock wound down under the final 30 seconds, Conard was awarded a corner. With everyone except goalie Grose moved up and the clock reading 00:00, Capone laid a ball into the top of the circle for the untimed corner. O’Connell came out to cut the angle on a shot that went past her left side and Ellery Tarasuk found herself at the far side of the goal with the ball on her stick and no goalie in place. She tapped in the goal and sent the Conard fans and team into a joyous celebration for the tied game.
“That goal,” said Hall’s Behan, “is what happens in Hall vs. Conard.”
The game moved into a 10 minute, 7-on-7 sudden victory overtime, but before the fans could settle in, it was Goldstein answering the taunts and blasting in the game-winner just 15 seconds into the extra session to send Hall home with the victory. “I used the tie for my motivation,” said Goldstein. “It wasn’t my best shot, but we are CCC champs!”
One goal from each side in the final 15 seconds of clock time showed the grit and determination of both sides.
It was a thrilling end to one of the most exciting games for either team this season. Even in defeat, Witmer was quick to give credit where it was due for both teams. “I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting game. We’ve worked hard all year,” she said of her club. “They have a prolific scorer and sometimes that is the difference.”
The Hall side was fielding a team that graduated eight starters from a season ago, and Behan credits her players with growing and maturing to where they are now. “They have worked hard for it,” she said.
Both sides will be forces to deal with in the Class L State Tournament. When the seedings and game sites are released Friday afternoon, Hall, now 13-3-0-0, will be a top-10 team, and more than likely will host an opening round game to go with the CCC title. “Today showed how hard we worked all season,” said McHugh after the win.
Conard (10-1-3-2) should land in the top 15, closer to 10 or 12, but may have lost the opportunity to host an opener with Thursday’s defeat. “Even with the loss today,” said Witmer, “we played a complete game heading into the state tournament.”
No matter what happens next for either school, the 2022 season finale will always be a classic memory.
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