EAST GREENWICH — When one of her players asked Cumberland High head coach Stefanie Capone-Bello how her baby was surviving the early moments of a battle between the Clippers and Smithfield on Wednesday night, the elder replied, “Pretty good, I think.”
Immediately after the second-ranked Sentinels had roared to an incredible 3-2 victory in this R.I. Division II Tournament semifinal at Nick Carcieri Field, Capone-Bello kept the same sense of humor, though looked sad doing so.
“I'm due Jan. 4, and I don't know what I'm going to have; it's going to be a surprise. I still hope my baby is doing pretty well.”
That's a fantastic sign, given the stress his/her mom was under throughout a contest with multiple twists and turns. For exactly 55:25 of this 60-minute tilt, the Clippers had either held the lead or were tied; in fact, with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, they held a 2-1 advantage.
Second-seeded Smithfield, though, somehow notched two tallies in the span of just 42 seconds late in the final stanza to eke out a stunning 3-2 triumph over gritty No. 6-ranked Cumberland. In the process, it sealed a berth in the D-II championship final against the La Salle-Chariho victor on this same turf at high noon Sunday.
The Sentinels improved to 10-3-1.
“It was a very intense game,” Capone-Bello sighed after her club – which had dropped a tight, triple-overtime verdict to eventual state champ Burrillville at Carcieri Field almost a year ago – closed the campaign at 6-7-2.
“We continued to play aggressive, but (allowing those two goals) was a combination of being tired and panicked, even though we were up, 2-1,” she added. “We were guarding that lead. It wasn't so much a defensive breakdown, but Smithfield did a great job of moving the ball around to different players who were open.
“The more tired we got, we had problems keeping up with their pace.”
All told, sophomore forward Tayla Ruo finished with two tallies and an assist, while junior Kayla Tannock capped off a superb outing with a goal and two feeds. That tandem proved to be an offensive juggernaut for the Sentinels.
Capone-Bello's bunch had racked up four penalty corners in the span of 1:20 early in the second half, but did nothing with them. When officials called for Cumberland to take a fifth corner with about 19:45 remaining in regulation, it finally converted 10 ticks later.
This time, senior tri-captain/forward Megan Martin sent a terrific pass from the goal line to junior standout Lindsay Sheehan, who promptly rifled a 15-yard grounder toward the netting. It seemed as if a Sentinel back had deflected it, and sophomore goalie Miranda Grundy couldn't respond quickly enough.
That gave the Clippers the 2-1 cushion.
Smithfield mentor Andy Dewhirst immediately called a timeout to re-install some motivation (after all, her 2012 squad had suffered a tough 1-0 loss to Burrillville in the title tilt less than a year ago at Roger Williams University).
The Sentinels dominated most of the remaining 18 minutes. In fact, it looked as if they had tied it when – with 15:58 left – Ruo cradled a through pass in front and tried to shove it through sophomore keeper Michaela Simanski, whose right pad booted the try from harm.
Three minutes later, on Smithfield's second corner of the session, junior Jenna Haberle sent a pass to junior midfielder/tri-captain Ashley Shilko, who fired a 22-yard bullet at the cage. That, though, sailed just wide right.
Dewhirst seemed rather distraught when sophomore forward Paris Lopez went down screaming in her defensive zone with just under seven minutes to play; she had been hit in the chin on a stick deflection. She later stood and hustled off to the bench, and junior Zoe Schwartz replaced her.
Exactly 2:10 later, Tannock roped a pass from the 40-yard line through the enemy defense and toward the net. Ruo stopped it, stickhandled around a back and knocked home the goal that knotted it at 2-2 with 4:35 left.
A mere 42 ticks later, Ruo crushed a 45-yard feed toward Tannock, and it seemed Simanski had stopped the initial chance, but Tannock regained possession and pushed it past the netminder while falling in a heap in the crease.
Afterward, Dewhirst claimed Tannock's own stick had hit her in the shin.
“She's got a huge black-and-blue mark on her leg, but she kept saying, 'Put me back in, put me back in!'” the Sentinels' chief laughed.
Cumberland actually had dominated the early portion of the opening stanza, and it showed when – with only 6:23 elapsed – senior tri-captain Julie Fougere sent a slap pass from the deep right section to sophomore Karin Dion in front. Stationed by the left post, she found the back of the cage to give her team the 1-0 lead.
Both squads had their fair chances through the middle segment, though Smithfield tied it with 9:55 remaining.
On Smithfield's fourth penalty corner of the half, Haberle poked a feed out to Tannock, who quickly sent it to Ruo. The latter shoved it through a scrum in front.
To exhibit how interesting the battle was, the Sentinels outshot CHS, 14-7, but the Clippers maintained an 8-7 edge in corners, including 5-2 through the last 30 minutes. Defensively, Cumberland produced several standouts, including Sheehan and seniors Kaitlyn Carr, Arianna Coutu (another tri-captain), Sarah Casey and Eden Duhamel.
Among those for SHS: Senior tri-captain Allie Sylvester, Haberle, sophomore Paris Lopez and senior Maddie Stevens.
“I just thought we played good field hockey,” Dewhirst noted after the tilt. “We were aggressive to the ball, but Cumberland was really tough on defense and in the midfield. I thought we broke down defensively early in the second half, and that's when we had to pick it up a notch.
“Our girls wanted this so badly,” she continued. “We had total respect for Cumberland; they have a lot of good, clean field hockey players who play the game the way it's supposed to be played. We never thought we were going to walk away with it. We knew it'd be a good game, but it wasn't just good. It was fantastic!”
Mentioned Capone-Bello: “I've said this before: I thought we tried to play more defensive in the second half. We were hesitating in their penalty circle instead of going in trying to score. We were guarding against the interception or the rebound, and we were playing too outside.
“After the game, the girls were quiet. I'm just going to tell them that we've made it to the semis two years in a row, and that it was especially tough this time, especially being the No. 6 seed. I'm still proud of what we accomplished.”