MILFORD — Coach Jeff Medeiros and the Stonington High girls lacrosse team were optimistic but realistic entering the Class S state title game Saturday morning against top-ranked powerhouse New Fairfield.
The Rebels, who lost just one game by a goal to Class L Staples, feature five Division I college commits and championship experience after winning Class S titles in 2017 and '18. New Fairfield was likely the best opponent ever faced by Medeiros, who believed the Bears needed a perfect game to stay on the field.
And after two minutes of play, third-seeded Stonington controlled the ball and got off four shots only to see Rebels All-State goalie Rachel Mikolay keep the ball out of the net.
But the early Stonington surge was a case of the Bears "poking the Bear." New Fairfield responded with clinical passing, checking and execution, jumping to a 9-0 lead over the next seven minutes en route to an 18-5 victory at Jonathan Law High. The Class S crown is their third straight.
New Fairfield (22-1) scored on 14 of its 20 first-half shots, controlled 12 of 16 draws and fumbled only one pass en route to a 14-1 halftime lead. The opening 25 minutes included a rare running clock after the Rebels took 10-0 lead with nine minutes left.
"We got beat to ground balls, we didn't make the saves we had [in the semis against Canton] and they didn't put the ball on the ground," Medeiros said. "Our game is about controlling the ball but so is theirs. They had more depth of talent and are very good. We knew it was going to be tough, and truthfully, we were happy to be playing this game."
Unlike 2014, Stonington's only other state title berth and a Bears victory, Stonington was not the best team and did not have the unquestioned best player as it did then with Elizabeth Morrison. New Fairfield was in a league of its own Saturday. The Rebels often needed just 15 to 30 seconds and a few passes to score after controlling the draw — 13 of its 14 first-half goals came during the course of action.
In an eight-minute span from 22:08 left to 14:25 left in the first half, Daria Bock scored two goals and assisted on three, and Katelyn Nieves and Reagan Tenaglia scored two goals each in a 9-0 run.
Even though New Fairfield substituted liberally with the big lead, the Rebels could not be stopped. It was 14-0 with 3:59 left before Stonington's Hannah Lamb scored with an assist from Kate Johnson with 3:02 left to make it 14-1.
"Our execution was the best I've ever seen it," New Fairfield coach Karen Nell said. "It was an epic day. We practiced at seven o'clock at school before the game — which has been a tradition for us — and we had plenty of energy once we got here. We took care of the ball and our defense has been great all season."
Despite falling way behind, Stonington (18-4) gained a minor victory by opening the second half with four goals to cut the gap to 14-5, temporarily ending the running time with 14:29 left. Johnson scored twice on free positions, and Lamb scored twice on assists from Emma Sabbadini.
"We showed something in the second half," Medeiros said. "It would have been disappointing if we didn't bounce back at all after being down 14-1."
New Fairfield regrouped to score the last four goals from the 11:50 left to the 6:04 mark.
Sousa, a midfielder and draw specialist, and Tenaglia finished with four goals each. Bock had two goals and five assists. Mikolay, headed to Division I Elon (N.C.), made nine saves. Stonington's Isabella McCarthy (5) and Faith Gately (2) combined to make seven saves. New Fairfield outshot Stonington, 31-18.
Lamb finished her career as Stonington's all-time leader in goals (232) and single-season leader (96). Johnson, headed to Division I Stetson on scholarship, graduates as the Bears' single-season points leader with 128 (84 goals, 44 assists), and Sabbadini leaves as the program record-holder for assists in one season (49).
"We did great to get to the final," Johnson said. "I'm happy that we got it together in the second half and showed what we could. New Fairfield is so talented. Even on free-position, 8-meter shots, their goalie was tough to beat and their defense quickly crashed in on you."
Medeiros had nothing but positive thoughts after the Bears received the runner-up plaque.
"We controlled our destiny this year and went as far as we could," Medeiros said. "We knew when our last practice was, we knew when our last game was. We didn't win a state title, but a team with just four subs went very far. I'm proud of this team."