NEW CANAAN -- New Canaan field hockey coach Erin Gildea's halftime words were exactly what her players needed before returning to action against a gritty opponent that had pushed them step for step in the first half.
Either that, or the Rams scoring 21 seconds into second half was purely coincidental.
Isabel Taben scored twice in the second period, off feeds from Page Jones and Elizabeth Miller, as New Canaan claimed a hard-fought 2-0 win over Fairfield Warde on Thursday, Sept. 26 at Dunning Field.
"We weren't playing our game (in the first half)," Gildea said. "We needed to go back to doing what we do well, which is our speed, communication and staying low. Once we did that, that made the difference."
Taben quickly got the Rams on the board after the Rams took the second half ball. The midfield worked the ball to the side and crossed it in to Page Jones, who fired a low shot from the center that was tipped in by Taben under the kicking leg of Warde Goalie Katy Stepsis.
Fortune was not smiling on Warde, which had plenty of looks at the cage and had a goal disallowed minutes after Taben's opener. The whistle had blown right before a Mustangs' effort had crossed the goal line for a penalty corner that was already awarded.
"What might have turned us around with that goal not counting," Warde coach Jodie Shannon said. "It might have picked us back up. I liked that even though we gave up the goal 21 seconds into the second half we were still on the attack. I felt the skill on both sides was pretty even; (New Canaan) was a little quicker than us."
Warde had five penalty corners within a three-minute span following the opening goal, but couldn't break through the Rams' defense. New Canaan goalie Emma Ball, who made four saves, notched her fourth shutout of the season. Stepsis made seven saves, including one on a penalty stroke with 9:03 left to keep Warde in the contest.
"We knew New Canaan is generally tough," Shannon said. "We had more offensive opportunities and more penalty corners than they did. I think we were passing a little too much (on the penalty corners). I think we should have just hit it towards the cage, if we did we might have got the deflection."
Midfielder Elizabeth Miller ran the show for the Rams (4-1), from her defense on penalty corners to her skill with the ball at her stick. The junior set up Taben's second goal with a spectacular run past several \ defenders before firing a low cross ball that was right on target.
"Miller is a coach's dream," Gildea said. "She doesn't panic, she does everything well, she stays low to the ground, keeps her stick down and fights tooth and nail for every ball every second of every game. She deserves the recognition as one of the strongest players around."
Next up for the Rams is a visit from New Milford, the team responsible for ending New Canaan's season in last season's Class L quarterfinals. Warde's next contest is Monday vs. Amity.
"We know (New Milford) has lost a ton of starters, and we did too," Gildea said. "I still have nightmares about (the 1-0 triple overtime defeat). Even though it's a new year and a new team it's nice to have a second chance and have them at our field."
The Rams played New Milford to a 1-1 tie on Saturday before picking up a 3-0 win over Ridgefield on Monday.
New Canaan 2, Warde 0
FAIRFIELD WARDE 0 0--0
NEW CANAAN 0 2--2
Records: Fairfield Warde 3-2, 3-2 FCIAC; New Canaan 4-1, 4-1. Goals: NC-- Isabel Taben (2) Assists: NC--Page Jones, Elizabeth Miller. Goalies: FW--Katy Stepsis (7 saves); NC--Emma Ball (4). Shots: FW--7; NC--17.