For the first 30 minutes, the Division I high school field hockey semifinal between Essex and Mount Anthony looked like it would be a one-goal affair.
In the second half, the Hornets flipped the script.
Leading 1-0 at halftime, top-seeded Essex used a pair of strikes in the first five minutes of the second half to distance itself from No. 4 Mount Anthony and earn a 7-0 victory to book a spot in Saturday’s state championship game.
Kathleen Young supplied a hat trick, and Paige Mittl scored twice to power Essex back to the D-I final for the first time since 2001. The Hornets (12-1-3) will face No. 2 Hartford at the University of Vermont’s Moulton-Winder Field.
“I just think our team is really excited,” Young said. “We’ve put in a lot of work this season, we’ve worked on a lot of team things so I think that’s what brought us here. I think we’re all excited about the end result.”
The early story of the game was the play of Mount Anthony goalie Leah Holland, who made five saves in the first eight minutes to help the Patriots hold off an early Hornets swarm.
“That first half, (Leah) kept us in the game,” Mount Anthony coach Laura Paro said. “Leah came up big with saves, huge.”
After the Patriots weathered the early storm, the game evened out and the two teams traded chances.
Essex capitalized on one of those chances with 5:58 remaining in the first half.
Young took control of the ball and dribbled it to the side of the circle. She fired the ball across the goal and it hit a stick in front and deflected past Holland for a 1-0 lead.
Mount Anthony nearly tied it up as time wound down in the first half. Mikayla Farrara controlled the ball in the circle and hit it towards the net. The ball ticked toward the corner, where it went just wide, missing the goal by half an inch.
That was as close as the Patriots would get.
Essex doubled its lead less than two minutes into the second half when defender Alex Celia scored her first varsity goal. The senior was in the right place at the right time, as the ball deflected to her and she tapped it into the goal.
“Early in the season we weren’t getting a lot of rebounds,” Essex coach Heather Garrow said. “We worked really hard on just digging our heels in in the circle and just staying on top of those rebounds.”
Mittl made it 3-0 three minutes later, pouncing on the ball after a Holland save and beating the Patriots’ goalie.
“We just talked about the fact that they were cutting off a lot of our passes and that we had to get back and cut to those passes,” Garrow said about the adjustments her team made at halftime. “They came out a very different group in that second half.”
At the 18-minute mark, Young added her second goal of the game, this one a highlight-reel play. Young corralled the ball at midfield and dribbled her way through the Mount Anthony defense. Just inside the circle, the junior fired the ball into the back of the net for a 4-0 lead.
Young would complete the hat trick less than two minutes later on another shot from just inside the circle. Mittl would add her second of the game at the 10-minute mark and Abigail Evans wrapped up the Essex scoring with a goal with 3:27 remaining to make it 7-0.
“We kept up our speed most of the game and we really worked as a unit,” Young said. “We passed when we needed to pass and we carried when we needed to carry, and everything just kind of fell into place because of good communication.”
It was an eye-opening performance from the Hornets’ offense, which scored more goals Wednesday — seven — than Essex has allowed all season (five).
“I had hoped we would play well” Garrow said. “I didn’t expect us to play this well.”
Essex had 14 penalty corners to the Patriots’ two and outshot them 22-2. Mount Anthony (11-5) wraps up its season with its third straight loss in the semifinals.