WALLINGFORD, Nov. 17 – All year long, the Avon High field hockey never backed down from a challenge.
Avon senior Jessica Portal battles for the ball. No. 2 Avon (16-2) outshot New Canaan 12-3 in the second half.
In fact, they relished the opportunity to tangle and beat defending Class S and league champion Granby twice. They rallied from a one-goal deficit to beat Simsbury for the first time in decades and dominated in a 3-0 victory over Glastonbury, then ranked No. 2 in the state.
In the Class M quarterfinals, the Falcons gave up an early goal to Joel Barlow but scored with 1:33 left in regulation to force overtime where they eventually advanced on penalty strokes, 3-1 to earn a spot in the semifinals.
However, No. 6 New Canaan scored with 5:34 left in the first half held off a furious Avon surge in the second half to earn a 1-0 semifinal victory at Sheehan High on Tuesday night.
The Falcons outshot New Canaan by a 12-3 margin in the second half and had a 10-0 advantage in penalty corner opportunities but Rams goalie Amanda Milunovich was superb with some point-blank saves in the final 10 minutes of the contest.
“We just couldn’t finish,” lamented Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki. “We had no luck. We just couldn’t put the ball in. It was just a matter of inches.”
With 4:07 left, sophomore Emily Arciero was right there in front of the goal with the ball. She redirected a pass to her left but Milunovich reached out with her right foot and deflected the ball away from the net. With 2:14 remaining, Milunovich made a kick save on a shot from Arciero sending the rebound to Avon teammate Kelsey Herbert, whose shot was kicked away by Milunovich.
With 1:36 left, Herbert’s shot on goal was just deflected away by a Ram stick.
Early in the second half, Milunovich made a pad save on a hard shot from Herbert and the rebound went to Arciero, who passed it across the crease to Jessica Portal, whose shot was just wide of the net.
“We may have wanted it so bad that we were trying too hard,” Ziemnicki said. “If we could have only tied it, we would have been OK in overtime. We’re in good shape.”
New Canaan scored its only goal off a penalty corner late in the first half. Betsy Hart’s shot on goal was redirected to Carolyn Falcone sitting open near the post and she pushed the ball past Falcon goalie Julia Plourd.
Avon (16-2) fell one win shy of the school record of 17 set in 1984 and were eliminated in the semifinals for the second time in three years. But Ziemnicki was proud of her team that won its first outright NCCC championship since 2003 and pitched 10 shutouts this fall.
“I’m proud of them,” she said. “They’re a great team. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
2009 CIAC Class M tournament
Falcons in ’09
15-1, 11-1 NCCC
Sept. 16: Suffield, W 2-0
Sept. 21: Simsbury, W 2-1
Sept. 22: Somers, W 7-1
Sept. 24: Stafford, W 5-0
Sept. 29: Canton, W 4-0
Oct. 1: Enfield, L 1-2
Oct. 6: Granby, W 3-0
Oct. 8: Hall, W 6-1
Oct. 13: Suffield, W 9-0
Oct. 15: Somers, W 8-0
Oct. 20: Stafford, W 3-0
Oct. 22: Canton, W 4-0
Oct. 27: Enfield, W 3-0
Oct. 29: Granby, W 2-1
Oct. 31: Glastonbury, W 3-0
Class M tournament
2nd round, Nov. 10: Wethersfield, W 4-1
Quarterfinals, Nov. 12: Joel Barlow, W 2-1, (3-1 PS)
Semifinals, Nov. 17: New Canaan, L 0-1