STONINGTON — Stonington High senior goalie Claire Evans found herself in a most unusual position in Tuesday's Class S first-round field hockey playoff game with Old Saybrook.
For the first time in the 45-year history of the storied program, a Stonington goalie was defending an opponent in a shootout.
Evans delivered in a big way, stopping the four Old Saybrook opportunities she faced as the Bears prevailed. The game was tied 1-1 after regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. No. 5 Stonington won the shootout round, 2-0.
"I was terrified, but I knew I would do well because we practice it a lot," said Evans, who is in her first year as a starter. "My approach is to just keep the ball as far away from the goal for as long as I can until the time runs out.
"I came out harder on my first shooter to scare them."
Evans burst off the line against Old Saybrook's McKenna Gibson, the Rams' first shooter, blocking the ball and knocking her hard to the ground. Gibson had to be helped up.
"We brought in an official [to practice] to demonstrate what you are allowed to do in a shootout," Stonington coach Jenna Tucchio said. "As long as you are making a play on the ball, you can be very aggressive."
In past years, CIAC tournament games were decided by penalty strokes. In penalty strokes, the ball is placed at the 7-yard line and the offensive player directs the ball to the goal. The goalie cannot move until the ball is touched.
In a shootout, the ball is placed at the 25-yard line and the offensive player can dribble the ball and get as close to the goal as possible, but only has 8 seconds to score. Goalies can come off their line to challenge shooters.
This is the first year for shootouts to decide playoff games.
"She was the first Stonington goalie to ever be in that situation," Tucchio said. "I could not have been prouder."
Evans was called for a foul on one of the shootout opportunities, and Old Saybrook was awarded a penalty stroke. Evans made a sliding stop on that attempt, too.
She was immense.
Stonington took the lead when the Bears' first shooter, Teegan O'Brien, eluded the Old Saybrook goalie and scored. O'Brien played well throughout the game, clearing a number of good scoring opportunities for the Rams.
Stonington's Ellie Korinek, who scored the team's only goal in regulation, also scored in the shootout round.
"Every girl has a different move we've been working on," said Korinek, who leads the team with 18 goals this season. "I've been working on pulling it around my body to get the goalie going in a different direction and then shooting in the opposite corner.
"Of course, you have to adjust to every goalie. And I had to do that in this game. This is new to everybody, and this was the first time for all the girls to do it. Both teams were fighting so hard, every moment you were on the edge of your seat."
Korinek said Evans' aggressive, physical play is not reflective of her personality off the field.
"She is the sweetest person in the world. She is just a phenomenal goalie; she stepped up so much this year," Korinek said. "We had just played double overtime, you have to be aggressive, you have to go for it.
"If you are making a play on the ball, you gotta do what you gotta do."
Stonington had to replace two All-Staters this season and start a number of new faces. Yet, the Bears are in the Class S quarterfinals after sharing the ECC regular-season title before losing in the league tournament title game.
Evans thinks she knows the reason for the Bears' continued success.
"We have a great coach," she said. "That's always going to be there. She's always going to be a great coach."
Old Saybrook, the No. 12 seed, finished the season 8-8-1.
Stonington next travels to No. 4 Westbrook, a 1-0 winner against Weston, on Thursday for the quarterfinals. The time of the game has not been determined.