Cape edges Polytech 1-0 in semifinals, seeks D-I hockey three-peat

Cape Henlopen players celebrate following their 1-0 semifinal win Thursday night. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

GEORGETOWN — Samantha Connors has played in big games before.

It’s not a new concept for the Cape Henlopen High sophomore, but she certainly waited for the perfect opportunity to score her first DIAA state tournament goal.

Connors’ first half score Thursday night sent the top-seeded Vikings past Polytech High, 1-0, in the Division I field hockey semifinals at Sussex Academy.

The shutout win over the fourth-seeded Panthers (11-5-1) puts the defending champion Vikings in Saturday morning’s Division I state title game against second-seeded Padua Academy. The game is set to begin at 11:30 a.m.

Saturday’s showdown with Padua is a rematch of last year’s championship game as the Vikings will be seeking their third consecutive title.

Cameron Smith (20) takes a shot against Polytech goalkeeper Raegan Thomas. Samantha Connors deflected in the rebound from Smith’s shot for the lone Cape goal.

Cape slid past Sussex Tech High, 1-0, in the 2017 title game before repeating with a 5-0 shutout of Padua last season.

Cape has nine overall field hockey state championships, with seven of them in the last nine years.

“It was really crowded in the circle, but Cami (senior Cameron Smith) took a shot and I was there, so I just shot it in the corner and it ended up going in,” said Connors. “It really feels good – especially only being a sophomore — I’ve never been in that position before, so it’s great. All the girls are congratulating me.”

Cape edged Polytech, 11-1, in penalty corner attempts and outshot the Panthers 4-0.

“It feels amazing [to be back in the championship],” said the senior Smith. “It’s definitely bittersweet though, since it is our last one, so we’re going to show up on Saturday and have a good game.”

It marked the third straight season that the Vikings (16-2) defeated Henlopen North foe Polytech in the semifinal round. Last year’s match-up ended with a 3-0 win and two years ago resulted in a 4-0 shutout.

This time around, the Panthers came prepared for a battle — especially on the defensive end of the field.

Cape’s offensive unit reeled in nine of its 11 corners in the first half but, aside from the Connors goal at the 11:11 mark, Polytech’s midfielders and defenders kept the Vikings away from the goal cage.

Goalkeeper Raegan Thomas made a pair of saves on Cape’s four shots.

Polytech junior Cecilia Rivera defends Cape’s Samantha Connors.

The Vikings received even fewer offensive opportunities in the second half but controlled the flow of the game enough to prevent the Panthers from netting an equalizer.

After registering just one corner in the team’s 3-1 regular season win over Poly on Oct. 3, the Vikings focused more on drawing those attempts to set up a shot.

“They definitely played a really great game,” said Smith. “They were able to really shut us down earlier than we expected, and we weren’t able to get into the circle a lot.

“Compared to the first game, we only got one corner, so we really worked on getting the corners and working … they played their whole team in the circle, so we tried to work around them and get corners for shots, so I think we did a good job with that.”

Offensively, Polytech has speed on the outside, so senior defender Anna Stancofski and the rest of the back line made sure to protect the circle and provide defensive support for junior goalkeeper Julie Heffernan.

“We knew that their forwards are super-fast, because when we played them earlier in the season they actually scored on us first,” said Stancofski. “So, in practice we’ve been working on our mids dropping, our forwards dropping and playing defense as a whole unit – not just our three defenders and goalie – and I think that really showed today.”

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