So when the Bears finally knocked off the Cougars 2-1 in the quarterfinal round of the Class S tournament on a rainy, cold Wednesday afternoon one could forgive them if they acted like they had just won a state title.
“It feels so good,” junior Casey Williams said. “We’re going all the way and we’re going to win the whole thing because they beat us last year, but not this year, because we’re going to win. State title here we come.”
Tucchio also felt the relief of beating the Bears’ long-time tormentor
“I’ve always known we could beat them, I thought we could have beaten them in the finals last year, I really did,” Tucchio said. “I guess it had to be the right time and this was our day. I think this has been a long time coming, the girls are ready for this.”
For a large portion of Wednesday’s game, the exact opposite appeared to be true.
Haddam-Killingworth carried the play for most of the first half and jumped in front 1-0 on a Julia Babbitt goal 10 minutes into the game.
Babbitt collected a rebound after Annie Knizeski made an initial save and scored unassisted for the only goal of the first half.
The Bears (16-2) had a chance to tie the score later in the first half with two solid opportunities off a penalty corner, but shot the ball right at the keeper on both tries.
A halftime squall introduced some cold air and high winds to an already damp, dreary day but the foul weather seemed to put a charge into the Bears offense.
Third-seeded Stonington dominated the play for almost all of the second half, but still missed on several good opportunities.
Stonington had several cracks at an open net after but could not get a shot off a minute and a half into the second frame.
Abigail Contino had a one-on-one chance with Cougars’ goalie Meghan Cerino ,but put her shot right into Cerino’s leg pads.
Finally, with 17 minutes to go, the Bears broke through.
The Bears maintained possession in Haddam-Killingworth’s end after a penalty corner and kept pressuring at the net.
After several players failed to get a shot off near the net, junior forward Molly Crowley collected the loose ball and fired a shot through several bodies, which found the back of the net.
The Cougars (13-5) were finally able to muster some offense after the equalizer, but Stonington was still able to apply some offensive pressure of its own.
Much like the first Bears’ goal, the second was scored during a scrum and after multiple Stonington players had a chance at a shot.
Ultimately, it was Williams who knocked a slow-rolling shot through a mass of players and into the net with just over 3 minutes to play.
“Jenny (Sieczkiewicz) passed it to the side of the goal, I reached for it and I just tipped it in with my stick,” Williams said. “It rolled right in.”
The Bears kept the Cougars from getting another scoring opportunity in the final 3 minutes and the celebration began as soon as the final horn sounded.
Stonington out shot the Cougars 11-5 and Knizeski made four saves for the Bears.
Tucchio said that her team’s shaky first-half play could largely be attributed to nerves.
“I think there’s a lot of nerves at first,” she said. “We played them in the finals last year and we played them sometimes twice a year and every year since these girls were freshmen, so there’s a history there.
“I think they needed to work over the nerves and figure out how they were going to handle the game emotionally and then we were able to get down to the physical play.”
The Bears next play against second-seeded Thomaston (16-1-0-1). The game will be played on Tuesday, Tucchio said. But the time and location have not been determined. Tucchio said that will not happen until today when the playoff games in the other divisions have been finalized.
No. 9 Granby and No. 4 Northwest Catholic will play in the other semifinals.
While Tucchio said she knows her team still has a lot of work to do if it wants to win a state championship, she also said that beating sixth- seeded Haddam-Killingworth was probably the single biggest obstacle her team had to overcome in the tournament.
“I know they’re going to play with more confidence,” she said. “I think there was probably in the back of their minds what happened last year.
“We figured if we could get this emotional hurdle out of the way, this physical hurdle out of the way we can beat anybody.”