Guilford - As the Class S state tournament began, Stonington field hockey coach Jenna Tucchio still had a few concerns about her team's execution of penalty corners after the Bears missed a few opportunities in their opener.
"In practice, we've been doing them for so long," junior Molly Crowley said. "Perfecting every single detail."
So with the first half of Tuesday night's semifinal game at Guilford High School just under way, fewer than eight minutes in, with the temperature dropping rapidly and Stonington goalie Annie Knizeski keeping a drum beat against her shin guards with her stick, the Bears were awarded a corner.
Elizabeth Morrison received it on the top left of the penalty area and gave it up to an open Meg O'Lari on the right. O'Lari's shot hit the back of the cage with a resounding thud, so hard that it ricocheted back out.
Stonington, the No. 3 seed, used all those little details to roll back into the Class S state championship game for the second straight season, blanking No. 2 Thomaston 4-0, scoring on two consecutive corners in the first half.
Crowley scored three times for the Bears (17-2), who will play either No. 4 Northwest Catholic or No. 9 Granby for the title game Saturday at Wethersfield High School at 10 a.m. The semifinal between those two teams will be played today.
"Jenna just had us expecting to go back to the finals … from the first day of practice," said Morrison, who leads the Bears this season with 24 goals, while Crowley upped her total to 21. "Coming out in the first half with a lot of momentum, that got our heads back in the game."
"You just get such a lift," Tucchio said of scoring right away. "I don't care who you are, how many times you've been here, you have nerves. Excitement, but anticipation. I think they played with exceptional confidence."
Crowley scored her first goal of the game 9:39 before halftime. A corner seemed to have been broken up by Thomaston, however O'Lari fired the ball back in from about 25 yards out and Crowley deflected it into the cage for a 2-0 lead.
The Bears outshot Thomaston 18-9 finished with 15 corners. Knizeski finished with nine saves.
Crowley, meanwhile, broke open a tight game with a pair of goals in a 45-second span in the second half, putting away the first on an assist from Tia LaFrance-Boyce with 6:49 to play and another from Celeste Courtney shortly thereafter.
"Molly has beautiful stick skills," Tucchio said, "beautiful receiving skills. She never coughs the ball up. She's always cool and confident."
"When we play so cleanly and together, that definitely helps," Crowley said. "We're faster. It gets our intensity up."
The Bears played their regular season on artificial turf for the first time, helping both their speed and their passing ability.
Thomaston played only one game on turf all year, said coach Brooke Gomes Holway, who said her team wasn't at its best against Stonington.
"They're a good team," Holway said of Stonington. "They move the ball from one side of the field to the other. They have a couple tremendous players up front."
Stonington lost last year's championship game 2-0 to Haddam-Killingworth, but already vanquished H-K from this year's tournament, beating its Class S rival 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Last year's state final appearance was the Bears' first since 1991.
Stonington will be looking for its first championship since 1987.