Three was a magic number for the Christian Academy field hockey team Wednesday.
The Centurions have come close to making the state title game the past two seasons, and on CAL’s third shot of the game and 10:40 to play, freshman Claudia Thomas wearing number three, scored the go ahead and deciding goal for her team’s first ever Kentucky High School Athletic Associations state championship with a 2-1 victory over Assumption.
Thomas found herself nine yards in front of the net, worked some skillful stick work to find an opening and launched a shot into the top right of the cage.
“Coach has told me to stop dribbling so much and not pass up shots,” Thomas said of something she did in Monday’s semifinal game against Manual. “I remembered that and took the shot and it went in. I am just so happy that I could be part of CAL making history here on our home field tonight. I was honored to have the shot.”
CAL (22-5-2) had come up on the losing end by one goal the past two seasons in the state semifinals. They lost to Sacred Heart 1-0 in 2015 and 1-0 to Manual last year.
Centurions coach Stanley Phulpagar said after last year’s loss that his team was very close to a break through and shot at a state title. However, the Centurions had concerns they might not have enough players to field a team when practice began.
“It is awesome and so, so amazing to finally get that title,” Phulpagar said. “At the Apple Tournament we had to beat Assumption and then Sacred Heart to win the Apple and here we have to beat Assumption again to win the state championship. I told the girls before the game they earned the spot, nobody gave it to you, now show people we can finish the deal.”
For Assumption, the defending state champions, it was a tough loss in a game where they outshot CAL 12-5 with only two shots on goal, and had a goal waived off that would have given them a 2-1 lead with 18:14 left in regulation.
Assumption coach Debbie Judd was pleased with her team’s effort but not the way it played out.
“CAL played a good game and they really have some nice players who are very quick and skilled,” Judd said. “I wasn’t surprised they didn’t allow the goal that had been the way it was all night. They didn’t follow the rules or call anything with the rough aggressive play. Yes, we didn’t allow many shots, but they nearly took our heads off with some of them.”
CAL was attacking early on and Jacquelyn Wilkins got free in front of the cage, took a pass from Claire Thomas, and put a shot into the cage off Rocket goal keeper Kamryn Lococo with 26:04 left in the first half.
Phulpagar immediately told his team to keep the pressure on which his team did defensively, but its offense went dormant for most of the game.
Assumption (20-7) struggled early to get the ball into the CAL end of the field until midway through the half when they took advantage of a corner.
Izzy Porco inserted the corner to Ashley Willbur who fired a shot that appeared to deflect off Porco as she came in front of the net for the equalizing goal with 14:01 left in the half. Willbur was credited with the goal.
“I’m not sure if I did get a stick on it or not, but all I care is that it went in and that changed the momentum,” Porco said. “Coach told us to pick up the intensity from there and that’s what we did. They are a team you have to respect, and I think after the Sacred Heart win we were a little cocky and they were ready to play.”
Despite another slow start Willbur said her team was in control after her goal.
“I think we did start slow but after that we played well and in the second half we totally dominated,” Willbur said. “They got a fast break we should have stopped earlier and Claudia got a great goal.”
With 14:01 remaining in regulation Assumption had a goal waived off on a redirect from Willbur on a pass from Meredith Boeckmann.
Judd said she never got an explanation, but Porco said they ruled Willbur started inside the 25-yard circle. However, Porco said there was no way that possible.
The Rockets didn’t waiver and kept up the attack, even after the goal by Thomas. They had several opportunities to score, but CAL used its quickness to poke shots down field.
“We got shot after shot and I believed till the last second we could win because we did it Monday night with seven seconds left,” Porco, the Central Michigan commit said. “It’s hard knowing that it ends here but it’s not the end of my career. Still I’ll miss all of these girls.”
CAL goal keeper Samantha Minrath had five saves and the University of Louisville commit was named the Midway/KHSAA student athlete of the year for field hockey.
The Rockets had 11 seniors on a team that suffered a devastating blow in the quarterfinals against Ballard when their captain Camyrn Pichea completely tore her ACL. Fans wore eye black with – Win 4 # 10.
“It meant the world to have everyone want to play for me because I would have given the world to be out there with them and it was very special,” said Pichea. “Honestly I think we did a very good staying composed and not frantic like we sometimes do. We connected passes and fought through everything.”
Pichea said she hopes to be healthy and ready to start practicing by June when she prepares to play for the University of Louisville.
“I look back at just making great memories with all my best friends on trips and being out there playing is amazing,” Pichea said. “You know win or lose we are still a family and I love all of them.”
Willbur, who has played with Pichea and teammate Erica Cooper, who had four shots on goal, since grade school, knew it was hard for her best friend to watch from the sidelines.
“She is the captain and she cheered the whole time keeping us positive. It has been an honor to play with her,” Willbur said.