Sacred Heart Greenwich entered Saturday’s showdown against Greenwich Academy winners of seven straight games, while GA had taken its last six matchups, so one streak had to end when these neighborhood foes renewed their storied field hockey rivalry.
Tigers senior captains Caroline Nemec and Erin Griffin made sure their team’s streak continued.
Nemec scored two clutch goals and Griffin added one to lead Sacred Heart to a 3-1 victory over host Greenwich Academy in an intense, back-and-forth FAA game.
“It’s always a game that involves a lot of emotion,” Nemec said of playing GA. “It’s a really fun game and competitive all around. We have a lot of friends and it’s always a great competition over there.”
Scoring off a penalty stroke and two penalty corners, Sacred Heart Greenwich stretched its win streak to eight games, improving its record to 12-3. The Tigers are in first place in the FAA and will most likely win the FAA regular season championship and have home field advantage throughout the league tournament.
“Both teams played very well,” said Sacred Heart Greenwich coach Alex Gheorghe, who guided the Tigers to the NEPSAC Class A championship in 2019. “The first half was very good and slowly we got possession. We knew we could win our corners, we have been working a lot on them. We wanted to generate as many as possible, so we could score some goals.”
Throughout their winning streak, the Tigers have been scoring goals off penalty corners at an impressive pace and they continued to excel Saturday, tallying twice. Their first goal came off a penalty stroke by Caroline Nemec, but a corner drew the stroke.
While applying pressure deep in the circle during the penalty corner, the Tigers were awarded a penalty stroke and Nemec took the shot. With all eyes on her, Nemec, a senior co-captain/midfielder, lifted her shot past GA junior goalie Ellie Volpe inside the cage’s left post, giving Sacred Heart a 1-0 lead with 59.4 seconds left in the second quarter.
“The main objective there is placement and where I want to put the ball,” Nemec said of her penalty stroke goal. “It’s really hard to think about it, but it is a mental game and I was just focusing and putting the ball where it should go.”
The scoreless first quarter saw both teams battle for possession and connect passes between the 25s. Junior Vivi Caruso registered a shot on goal early in the second quarter that was saved by Volpe and the Tigers earned a penalty corner, which was blocked by the Gators. GA’s first penalty corner in the second quarter resulted in a shot from junior Sienna Tejpaul that was just wide of the cage.
Greenwich Academy (10-5) tied the score, converting on a penalty corner with 5:34 to go in the third quarter. Senior Cameron Brower initiated the corner with an insert pass and junior Laetitia Cartellieri moved the ball to the right side of the circle, then the ball was passed to Tejpaul positioned in the center of the circle. She put a hard drive toward the goal that was tipped in by Johnson, evening the score at 1-1.
The score didn’t remain tied for long, however. Quickly moving the ball up the field, the Tigers forced a penalty corner and promptly scored, courtesy of Caroline Nemec. Her corner goal came at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter – 54 seconds after GA’s tally – putting Sacred Heart on top, 2-1.
“It was a really big deal for us, because it showed right after we were scored on, the passion and energy we had just coming right back after that and immediately scoring a goal,” Caroline Nemec said.
Said Greenwich Academy coach Jamie Brower: “We were really excited we scored and they always say the next five minutes is very important. There’s a lot of things to learn from this game and that’s one of them – to stay dialed in and don’t celebrate until the whistle blows.”
In the fourth quarter, the visiting Tigers gained some breathing room with a goal with 9:47 remaining. Junior Kate Nemec sent a shot toward the goal and Griffin, positioned in front, got her stick on the ball and deflected it home, making it 3-1.
“It was super spontaneous,” Griffin said of her goal. “I saw where it was headed. Kate had it, I just put my stick down and we were diving all over the place and I’m really happy that it paid off and went in.”
Volpe made seven saves in goal for Greenwich Academy, while goalie Teresa Harkins stopped two shots for Sacred Heart. Getting more shots on goal will be a point of emphasis for the Gators in their future games.
“We were battling in between the 25s, but we have to figure out how to get inside the circle,” Brower said. “The defense played a very tough game, I think Ellie Volpe made some great saves. But we have to figure out how to generate more shots and generate more corners. Our attack corners is strong, we executed some of them very well.”
During its eight-game success streak, SHG has yielded only one goal, as junior Ines Araujo has helped pace the squad defensively.
“We are so proud of them, they worked hard all season and we’re so happy they have put it together so well,” Sacred Heart associate head coach Sarah Hill said.
“Just our energy and our effort through it all was impressive,” Griffin added. “They got a goal and we didn’t let up, which I think was awesome and everyone played their hearts out.”
Indeed, it won’t be surprising at all to see Sacred Heart and GA meet once again for the FAA Tournament title in November.
“I thought our team put all of our effort in there and I’m really proud of all of my teammates at GA and how hard they worked and I’m really excited about the possibility to face them again sometime later in the season,” Johnson said. “I think that everyone put in their best effort and I’m proud of everyone for putting in 110 percent.”
Sacred Heart visits Westminster on Wednesday, while Greenwich Academy travels to Loomis Chaffee on Wednesday.
“We’re a really close team, so it’s exciting to watch us play so well,” Griffin said. “Winning today is the best feeling ever and I’ll never forget this day.”