Greenwich Academy edges Sacred Heart in epic lacrosse battle

Sacred Heart’s Mo Leitner gets the ball past GA’s Julia Conway during Saturday’s game. — John Ferris Robben photo

Sacred Heart’s Mo Leitner gets the ball past GA’s Julia Conway during Saturday’s game. — John Ferris Robben photo

In a match-up that pitted two highly talented cross-town rivals on the same lacrosse field, it was Greenwich Academy that was able to pull ahead of Sacred Heart and hold on for the dramatic 11-10 victory Saturday afternoon.

The last time the Gators and Tigers matched up was in the FAA championship game last year, a game that GA was able to pull ahead and capture the championship, 17-14.

This time around it was the Tigers that started out firing on all cylinders early and held on for the 6-5 halftime lead. However in the second half, the Gators were able to control the tempo and possess the ball for the majority of the time.

“I thought we were steady,” Greenwich Academy head coach Angela Tamamro said. “We jumped out to that two-goal lead late and let it slip away. However I thought we were a little more resilient and showed that we could keep on pecking away and got back in the game. We played pretty well in the second half. We had a lot of takaways in the final six minutes and we played at a level of what we needed for that game.”

Sasha Fritts finished the game with a team-high four goals for GA. Lexi Henkel and Gabby Noto each added two goals and one assist, while Emilia Tapsall netted one goal and one assist and Izzy Nixon scored one goal and added two assists. Angie Loynaz also tallied one goal and one assist.

We really pulled through in the second half and I want to give the credit to our defense,” Fritts said. “I feel like we had some good cuts at the end and a good second half overall. We really responded well to their goals and I thought we had good groundballs at the end. It means a lot to come back like we did in the second half and I’m so proud of them for that.”

For the Tigers, Colleen O’Neill led the way with three goals, while Allie Kenny finished with two goals and one assist. Mo Leitner added two goals, while teammate Catherine Hayden finished with one  goal and one assist. Taylor Ryan and Emma Novick each rounded out the scoring for CSH with one goal apiece.

“We were fired up,” Sacred Heart head coach Courtney DePeter said. “It’s always fun to get excited for this game, but I was really proud of how we played a full 50 minutes and gave it our all. This was definitely our best game that we’ve played so far this season. GA is always a strong team and there is always something special about this game when the two of us come together. We were so close and I really wish we could have finished a little differently.”

Convent of the Sacred Heart’s Taylor Ryan tries to get the ball past Greenwich Academy’s Annie DeFrino during Saturday’s game on the CSH turf. — John Ferris Robben photo

Convent of the Sacred Heart’s Taylor Ryan tries to get the ball past Greenwich Academy’s Annie DeFrino during Saturday’s game on the CSH turf. — John Ferris Robben photo

With both teams battling back-and-forth in the second half, Hayden was able to help the Tigers knot the score at 9-9 off a free position attempt with 9:41 to play. However Gators came firing back, as Nixon passed the ball to Fritts, who fired the ball past CSH goalie Maddie Pillari with 8:12 to give GA the 10-9 lead. Less than a minute later, the Gators added their insurance point when Tapsall darted down the middle of the field and blasted the shot between the pipes for the 11-9 lead.

“I think this is a huge win for us,” GA goalie Mary Taussig said. “We played really well together and I think we will grow from this game. Usually we have really close games with Sacred Heart and I think that a win like this proves how strong of a team we are and how we can come back. When we were down, we all kind of realized that we need to come back, play as a team more and hustle to try and get the ball, especially off the draw.”

The key to Greenwich Academy’s victory was in the final minutes of the game. Playing a hard-nosed defense that only gave up one goal the rest of the way, as Sacred Heart’s Leitner fired a shot with 2:24 to play. Other than that, the Gators worked the stall to perfection, as the Tigers were unable to gain possession of the ball.

“In these really close, tight games, you always have that nervousness about the stall coming and that is why the draw control is so important,” DePeter said. “I thought we did a good job in the beginning with the pressure on the stall and we were able to get it. But we then turned the ball over. When we were a man up, we turned it over and weren’t able to capitalize. I think there are little things that we could work on, but other than that I thought we played a great team defense.”

“They built a nice lead over there, but I think we showed that we are more resilient and kept pecking away during the game,” Tammaro said. “We played pretty well in the second half. We had a lot of takeaways in the final six minutes and we played at a level that was where we needed for that game. I thought we handled the ball pretty well.”

Although the Gators grabbed the victory, it was the Tigers that started the game on fire and were controlling the play throughout most of the half.

Greenwich Academy got goals from Henkel and Loynaz to give GA its 2-0 lead with 20:32 to play, but that’s when Sacred Heart exploded onto the scene, scoring the next five goals of the game. The duo of O’Neill and Kenny netted two goals each during the run. After the Tigers slowed the Gators’ transition game to a crawl during the stretch, Kenny gave CSH its 5-2 lead when she took the ball from Hayden and unloaded a shot that hit the top corner of the net.

“We were really fired up,” DePeter said. “It’s always fun to get excited for this game, but I was really proud of how we played for the full 50 minutes and gave it our all. I definitely think this is the best game that we’ve played so far this season. GA is always a strong team, but there is always something special about this game when the two of us come together. We were just so close and I wish that we could have finished a little differently, but I am still so proud of how we played.”

After Tammaro called a timeout to help her team regroup, Greenwich Academy settled down and finished the half on a 3-0 run.

“I think that after we realized that we needed to put in a lot of extra hustle for the 50/50 balls and got the possession, we recognized what we needed to do and got it done,” said Noto, who scored two of the three goals to close out the half. “Something that we’ve always been taught was that we should never give up. We brought ourselves together, told each other that we needed to get it done and went out there and did what we know best.”

Tammaro said that the difference in the way Greenwich Academy played from the first 15 minutes of the first half through the rest of the contest was that GA was able to take better care of the ball and stop careless turnovers.

“We started getting more draws and our defense was playing smarter and tighter,” Tammaro said. “I am really proud of how we didn’t lose our composure when we fell behind. I am also proud of how we corrected our mistakes and starting taking better care of the ball.”

With the victory, Greenwich Academy upped its record to a perfect 9-0, while Sacred Heart fell to 5-4 on the season.

“We are at a really good spot right now,” Fritts said. “It’s always fun when we play Sacred Heart. We have big games coming up as well and we are also excited about those.”

Although Tammaro said her team is having another strong season, she still believes there’s work to be done.

“I think our pressure defense needs to be better,” Tammaro sad. “We all weren’t on the same page, so we were leaving spaces. I think our shot selection needs to be a lot better and we need to get tougher with the ball when it’s loose.

Despite the loss, DePeter said that she couldn’t be prouder of the way her team played an intense game from start to finish.

“It’s something that we’ve been working on since the beginning of the season,” DePeter said. “We found in games like Loomis and Hotchkiss that we would be in the games but would go on a five-minute lull where they would go on a run. Our goal was to not let that happen and to play a whole game like it was 0-0. That was the mentality that they took and why we never quit.

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