WETHERSFIELD — Saturday was day like no other for Stonington High athletics. Two teams playing for two state championships on the same day.
And just 4 miles apart at convenient times for fans to attend both games — boys soccer at 11 a.m. in Hartford, and field hockey at 2 p.m. in Wethersfield.
"It's historic," Stonington athletic director Bryan Morrone said. "[Former police chief and town historian David Erskine] said it's the first and only time ever Stonington has played for two state titles on the same day."
The Stonington boys did their part, winning their second Class M crown in three years in a victory over Ellington before traveling a few miles down Route 91 to cheer on the Bears in field hockey.
But North Branford spoiled Stonington's traveling road party in greater Hartford — the fourth-seeded Thunderbirds won their fifth state championship, dominating No. 2 Stonington, 2-0, in the Class S final.
How stingy was North Branford's defense? Goalkeeper Samantha Helwig wasn't forced to make a single save as NB held the Bears to one shot on goal.
After pressuring Stonington (18-4) heavily in a scoreless first quarter, North Branford (16-2-2) scored twice off penalty corners in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter. The Bears regrouped to contain the Thunderbirds, but were unable to generate enough offense to cut into the early lead.
"We settled into playing more of our game in the second half," Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio said, "but they had us a little bit on our heels early. North Branford played very well, much better than they did against us in the regular season."
The Thunderbirds beat Stonington, 1-0, Oct. 9, but Tucchio said neither team learned anything in that nonleague contest.
"The game was played on grass there and it was rainy," Tucchio said. "It wasn't comparable to today."
North Branford coach Babby Nuhn, who is in her 48th season and was the coach in 1987 when Stonington topped NB, 1-0, for the Bears' first of two Class S titles, said her team played perhaps its best defensive game. North Branford won a pair of 3-2 decisions heading into the final.
North Branford senior Braeden LeBeau, a strong 6-footer, spearheaded the defensive front that constantly stick-checked the Bears and prevented them from any kind of deep penetration most of the contest.
"Braeden is a strong leader and an unsung hero for us with her setups and defense," Nuhn said. "Stonington can thwart you from the left or right, so it was important for us to play intense for 60 minutes."
Stonington's defense also provided big plays. Goalkeeper Avery Slocum made a kick save on Olivia Toto's point-blank shot on an early penalty corner. Defender Anne Drago cleared a shot from near the goal line with seconds left in the first quarter.
But early in the second 15-minute frame, Toto raised her stick over her shoulders to tomahawk a deflected pass from Mia Oliverio into the net for a 1-0 NB lead with 11:57 left in the half. About a minute later off a penalty corner, Oliverio sent a shot from the top of the circle that bounced several times and got by a screened Slocum with 10:34 left for a 2-0 edge.
A Stonington comeback was improbable considering the Bears mustered just three penalty corners, which were stymied before they could get off a shot in most cases.
"It's always key to score the first goal in a big game," Nuhn said. "It's even nicer to get a cushion."
North Branford made a late rush in the second quarter and sent a dangerous crossing pass in front of the net before Bears defender Emma Spathakis whacked the ball away. Slocum (six saves) also stopped a hard LeBeau shot in the third quarter.
Stonington had extra time when it forced a penalty corner with time expiring in the game. But down by two, a goal wasn't going to change the outcome. Stonington's shot went wide, anyway.
North Branford held advantages in shots, 6-1, and penalty corners, 6-3.
Tucchio, 1-2 in Class S title games, heaped praise on her team.
"It hurts to lose, but it's hard to get here and even harder to win it," she said. "My girls had an amazing year."
Drago, one of 10 Stonington seniors, said it was "cool" to be playing for a chance to post two Stonington championships in one day.
"We were excited when the boys won, but once we started to prepare for our game, we were focused on field hockey," she said. "North Branford had an excellent defense. We played more of our game in the second half, but they were tough today."
Tucchio said Stonington fed off the momentum of the rare double championship opportunity.
"It was great to be part of championship weekend," Tucchio said. "We watched the end of the boys game online and then they came here to support the girls after their game. The football team was also here. That says a lot about the community we have, the love and support we have there with people who are proud of our athletes."