Rams fall in Class L semis

WEST HAVEN -- The run for the repeat is through.

A season after winning the Class L state championship, New Canaan's girls soccer failed to put the ball in the net in Tuesday night's semifinal against No. 2 RHAM. The 11th-seeded Rams fell to their phonetically familiar foe 3-0 at Ken Strong Stadium at West Haven High School.

New Canaan (13-4-2) fell behind quickly, as RHAM sophomore Katherine Lawrence was in the right spot at the right time with 35:58 left, when she gave the Sachems (17-1-1) a 1-0 lead. Georgetown-bound senior Audra Ayotte made a sliding cross pass intended for sophomore Sydney Aldrich, who couldn't corral the ball as the English on the ball dictated its landing spot. The ball slipped of Aldrich's foot, found Lawrence's, and she easily punched in the goal past Rams junior Holly Burwick.

"They were one of the most skilled teams that we've played. I would almost put them on the level of Greenwich," Rams senior Abigail Lee said.

RHAM was extremely tactical in its ball-handling and passing, and New Canaan was unable to easily clear the ball out of its zone on a number of occasions.

"We were kind of comparing them to Staples, too, the way they were able to get the ball down the sides, get the crosses off and finish," Rams junior Sarah Mannelly said.

It was clear RHAM wanted to spread the field and cross quickly with any number of its strong-legged attackers.

"I don't think we've played a team yet that, when they crossed, they did it on the ground and went straight to goal from the sidelines," Lee said. "We'd been more so playing teams that do those long (high) crosses."

The Sachems made it 2-0 after Ayotte got behind the Rams' D and quickly punched in her shot from eight yards out.

"We didn't attack the ball leading up to those goals, which allowed them to get the ball in behind us," New Canaan head coach Kirk Bamford said. "If you looked at [RHAM senior forward Kristen Brett], she attacked the ball very well straight off the bat, and that didn't allow us to get anything."

RHAM goalie Val Ciotto stopped 10 of New Canaan's shots, while Burwick sent back seven RHAM attempts. The Rams had a couple of point-blank-range attempts, but they did come in traffic.

"They had a tall girl in the back, so it was hard to adjust," Mannelly said. "We're used to just kicking the ball over (the defense)."

Bamford said: "Sarah (Mannelly) went up top there, and that shot that just went over the bar -- that goal was in," Bamford said of an attempt in the second half. "Then there's one with 10, 15 minutes to go we get another chance, and the keeper got a toe to it. You could say there's all these buts and maybes ... but with a bit more luck of the dice tonight we could've brought ourselves back into the game."

Despite the team's season being over, Bamford was about as upbeat, positive and proud of his group for playing hard -- it was just an aggregate of about 10 of the 40 minutes that his team got outplayed by the higher seeded Sachems, he said.

"Apart from that first two times (two goals), really, and obviously the back end of the second half when we were chasing, they really didn't give us any problems at all," Bamford said. "It was just a matter of getting caught a little flat and they punished us."

The third and final goal came with 25:12 left in the game, as Ayotte won a one-on-one battle with Burwick.

"I'd be very surprised if RHAM don't win the final," Bamford said. "And if they do, it's going to be by an own goal. ... They're a good, strong team and they take their chances well. Unfortunately today we couldn't make our chances count at the vital time."

For New Canaan, which lost five starters -- girls who scored more than 30 goals in 2009 -- the season was certainly a success, according to its head coach.

"For any team to do what they've done this year after losing that much is phenomenal," Bamford said. "I think there's a lot of teams that lost less impact and got nowhere near where we've got. That's credit to the girls, their effort and their determination to be here."

With every win and every loss that came, the post-game huddles and coaching chats were quick but meaningful to Bamford, his assistants and the girls. It was a season of success and constant learning in the wake of the title run a year ago.

"I think they've learned not to underestimate what they're capable of achieving," Bamford said. "It takes a lot of hard work, but the mentality and belief and attitude in regards to how you execute is huge. I think this year we've shown we can compete with anybody."