EAST LYME — Stonington High could've seen this coming. The red flags were there.
The Bears were ripe for a letdown after an emotional win over East Lyme in the semifinals of the ECC girls lacrosse tournament two days prior.
Further, heading into the title game against a motivated Woodstock Academy, senior midfielder Kate Johnson forgot her helmet on the bus and coach Jeff Medeiros left the team's sideline canopy tent behind in Stonington.
Whatever the reason, third-seeded Stonington lacked focus and it showed in an 11-9 loss to the No. 4 Centaurs on Thursday at East Lyme High. The ECC championship is Woodstock's first.
The defending champion Bears, who last season ended East Lyme's reign of 11 straight titles and beat the Vikings 10-9 on Tuesday, entered the finals with an impressive 15-2 record. Their winning formula? Control the draw, maintain possession and get the ball to scorers Johnson, Hannah Lamb and Emma Sabbadini.
But they had trouble winning draws against Woodstock's Arielle Johnson, whose height proved to be an advantage, and they had difficulty executing — not finding cutters, missing passes, fouling and turning the ball over.
"I think maybe we came in with a little too much confidence," said Johnson, who led the Bears with four goals and one assist. "We just beat one of the best teams in the ECC [in East Lyme], and we knew Woodstock was going to be a competitive game. But we thought we were the veteran team. We were here last year and we came out with the W. Maybe we thought it was gonna come easily."
Not against the Centaurs, who suffered a narrow 10-9 loss to the Bears on a rainy April 9 and were still smarting over the fact that Stonington didn't provide a canopy for them at Palmer Field.
"In their eyes, they wanted to stick it to us," Medeiros said. "For that reason I didn't want to play them."
Sabbadini scored the first goal of the game, but the Centaurs (15-3) responded with the next four, by game MVP Emma Ciquera, Arielle Johnson, and two in a row by Peyton Saracina. By halftime, their lead was 6-3.
The Bears never got closer than two goals the rest of the game.
"A team like Woodstock that's so fired up to be here — you just can't give them any fire," Medeiros said. "Before the game, I explained to the girls, 'You can't keep this game close. There's a lot of emotion over there.' They jumped out to the early lead and we could never squelch it."
In the second half, Stonington cut it to 8-6 and, later, 10-8 on a goal by Sabbadini with 5:37 remaining. But on the ensuing draw, the Bears were whistled for a restraining line violation by their attackers.
The all-important possession went to the Centaurs, who used up some clock before getting a free-position goal by Ciquera with 3:52 left. It was her third of the game and 62nd of the season.
"That was very costly," Medeiros said of the violation. "Every little mistake we made was so costly. We would get momentum and trip up and lose it."
Kate Johnson bounced one in for her last goal with 1:07 left to make it 11-9. On the ensuing draw, after a lengthy battle for possession, the referee's whistle stopped play and possession was awarded to the Centaurs, who proceeded to run out the clock.
"We never got that control [of the draw] that we've had all year, and they were getting control," Medeiros said. "Then it comes down to time issues. A lot of times, we've held the ball for two or four minutes and we get a goal. That didn't happen today.
"I don't want to take anything away from Woodstock, but we didn't play our best game. If we played our best game, we would've won."
Said Johnson: "I don't think the intensity was there enough. We were flat. We weren't all there."
Woodstock finished with a 13-9 advantage on draws, while Stonington had a 20-16 edge in shots, including two that hit the post. Sabbadini finished with three goals, Megan Detwiler and Kathryn Logel had one each, and goalie Isabella McCarthy made five saves.
The Bears next play in the Class S state tournament. They are seeded third and host the Northwest Catholic-Bethel winner on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
"Our mission's not done," Medeiros said.