The tears flowed freely as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock on Saturday at the Edward Arum Field on the campus of Pomperaug High School in Southbury.
The incredible run put on by the Shelton High girls lacrosse team came to a bittersweet ending, as Pomperaug came away with a hard-fought 12-7 win.
One by one, the seniors approached head coach Paul Leonard to be consoled following a season that had the Gaelettes playing for a state tournament bid on the final day.
“This team went through so much this year,” Leonard said. “They overcame a lot of adversity with all the injuries we had. What these girls accomplished is a testament to them, especially the leadership from our seniors.
“They never gave up and they never got down emotionally. Little by little they began to turn it around, and to be in this position on the last day of the season was just incredible.
“Saying goodbye to them was like saying goodbye to daughters. They made coaching them the most enjoyable job in the world.”
Three weeks ago, there didn’t seem to be a possibility that Shelton would be in a situation like this — playing for a chance to qualify for the state tournament.
Saddled with a 1-6 start on the season, a team decimated by injuries began to turn the corner.
The Gaelettes won five of their last eight games, including three in a row before they stepped on the field against the Pomperaug Panthers (7-8).
Shelton came out a little tight, as the Panthers’ Mackenzie Vaughn scored in the first minute of the game and rattled off three more tallies. With 14:04 left in the first half, the host team was threatening to run away with it holding a 4-0 lead.
Leonard called a timeout, and in the huddle reminded the team what it had overcome to get here. Pomperaug was winning the groundball battle and Shelton needed to spread the field in transition to make it harder for the defense to close off the lanes.
Shelton came out of the timeout with a renewed purpose. Julia Kopchik, Mizy Breton and Marlee Figueroa began to control the groundballs at midfield to ignite the offense.
A hard collision along the sidelines had Jessica Wilm in possession, and a long pass to Gina Orazietti heading for the post had Shelton threatening.Orazietti took it behind the cage, emerging on the far side with a pass to Aly Ferrante out in front.
Ferrante ducked under a defender closing in, and with her back to the goal, threw a shot over her head that found the back of the net for the first of her four goals at 13:16 to make it 4-1.
Two minutes later, Sydney Spadinger made a strong defensive play with a take away. Carly Shomsky took a pass and closed in and fired a shot that eluded Erika Foschi, the Pomperaug goalie, and it was 4-2.
Morgan Smelter, Sarah Stuart and Julia Fitzpatrick worked on defense to limit the possessions of the Panthers’ six-foot attacker Shayna Delaney (six goals), as her vertical leap around the cage made her an imposing threat for goalie Taylor Searles.
Delaney used a jump shot in the crease to give Pomperaug a 5-2 advantage with 9:27 left in the half.
The Panthers’ passing game was crisp and on the mark, as they maintained possessions out front. Searles was up to the task, turning away several shots and making numerous point-blank saves.
With under three minutes to play in the half, Shelton’s Kayla Pjatak came away with a possession along the sidelines. A quick handoff to Ferrante had her streaking past the defense for a bounce shot into the net that closed the gap to 5-3.
Kayla Roballey took it into the teeth of the defense with 1:50 to go before firing a shot that was blocked. She stayed with it and pounded the rebound into the net to make it a 5-4 game.
Pomperaug scored a late goal to up the margin to 6-4, but Shelton took the momentum into the halftime break when Ferrante converted a hook shot out in front in the final 20 seconds to make it a 6-5 game at the break.
“We came out a little nervous knowing what this game meant,” Leonard said. “At halftime I tried to get them to relax and get them to enjoy the game.
“This is suppose to be fun and I told them not to put so much pressure on themselves. When they can relax and enjoy the game, they are one of the better teams out there.”
At the onset of the second half, Delaney used her height advantage to put Pomperaug in the driver’s seat, as she scored three goals in the first five minutes and the game started to slip away from Shelton.
Down 9-5, Megan O’Brien started to steer possessions for Shelton into the Pomperaug end to get something going.
But, the Panthers continued to go to Delaney and tacked on two more goals to open up an 11-5 advantage.
Jackie Reis and Jill Ortoli looked to spearhead a final comeback for the Gaelettes.
Reis got a pass to Ferrante, who found Spadinger behind the defense, and the brief opening at 6:40 to play gave Shelton a goal to cut the deficit at 11-6.
With under two minutes to play, Ferrante threw a groundball into the net to cut the margin to four at 11-7.
Pomperaug finished it off with a goal as time was winding down for the 12-7 final margin.
For the Shelton seniors, Aly Ferrante, Kayla Roballey, Morgan Smelter, Sydney Spadinger, Taylor Searles, Megan O’Brien and Jackie Reis, this season will long be remembered after the last piece of equipment is packed away.
“I can only hope that these girls will remember what an incredible season they had,” Leonard said. “I for one will remember what an outstanding group of girls we had this season, and how hard they fought right up until the final day of the season. I couldn’t be any more prouder of what they accomplished.”