Published May 10. 2013 4:00AM Updated May 10. 2013 4:45AM
Montville - At the beginning of the season, Danielle Keefe was a defender who decided to participate in goalie tryouts for the St. Bernard School girls' lacrosse team.
A sophomore, Keefe started the season at the junior varsity level.
By Thursday afternoon in the mist at Delaporta Field, Keefe was the varsity's star goalie, making 17 saves to temporarily thwart Stonington's bid at an Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division championship. St. Bernard, outshot 34-20, nevertheless won 11-10.
Asia Carter, who also had a career day with five goals for St. Bernard, scored the game-winning goal with 4.9 seconds remaining after one final stand by Keefe on a Stonington possession which lasted almost all of the final two minutes.
"We had a lot of shots. You can only pepper the goalie so many times," said Stonington coach Jeff Medeiros, whose team was perfect in the division heading into the game and needed only a win to clinch a share for the Small Division title.
"I was thinking about trying to visualize myself in goal, trying to pretend we're saving all the shots, that's what a teammate of mine told the goalies to think about," Keefe said. "... I think today capped (the season) the most."
Stonington (7-5, 5-1) clinched a share of the division title anyway, with defending champion Ledyard's 17-11 loss to Waterford later in the day.
St. Bernard (4-3), Waterford (3-3) and Ledyard (3-3) each have three losses in the division, giving Stonington a two-game advantage with two to go in the ECC Small.
Still, Medeiros wishes the Bears could have won the title themselves on Thursday.
"We tend to be a second-half team," he said. "Unfortunately, today we didn't get going until the second half of the second half. ... They should have been fired up today; they should have been getting to ground balls."
Stonington did an admirable job defensively, holding St. Bernard to 20 shots or fewer, one of Medeiros' goals for his team this year. The Bears' Megan Roberts drew the assignment of shadowing St. Bernard's go-to player on offense, Maria Theiler, holding her without a shot.
Still, St. Bernard scored the final three goals of the first half to lead 5-4, one each from Lydia Crawford, Nicole Menner and Carter, and the Saints led by as many as three goals twice in the second half.
Medeiros called a timeout with 15 minutes, 42 seconds remaining and urged his team to be more aggressive.
The Bears trailed 10-7 on a goal by St. Bernard's Grace Mayeda with 6:52 to play. That's when the Bears began their assault on Keefe.
With the lengthy Libby Morrison dominating Stonington's draw controls, the Bears got consecutive goals from Jenny Sieczkiewicz and the tying goal from Maya DePasquale with 2:16 to go.
Bouyed by interceptions from Emily Cassata and Margot Calmar, in her first game back on defense after suffering an arm injury during basketball season, Stonington continued to get shots. Roberts and Morrison both had point blank attempts saved by Keefe and St. Bernard held its ground until getting the ball back with 20 seconds left and embarking on a full-out sprint down the field.
Carter was awarded a free position shot with eight seconds left, resulting in the game-winner.
Crawford and Mayeda scored two goals each for St. Bernard (5-8 overall), which needs to win two of its last three games to qualify for the state tournament. Shannon Amarello had two assists.
Sieczkiewicz had three goals and DePasquale two goals and an assist for Stonington.
"We've been up and down a lot. We've played a lot of close games," St. Bernard coach Jon Zielinski said. "We've been tied or up at the half in all but two of our games, I think. Today we played for the full 50 minutes.
"This is a huge win. Stonington can score quick. They've got the speed and they've got the size. That's why I called a timeout with 5 seconds left and said, 'Just because there's 5 seconds left, that doesn't matter.'"
Stonington has a chance to clinch the Small Division title outright with a win Tuesday at home against Ledyard.