Barlow field hockey team blanks Immaculate, turns attention to SWC playoffs

REDDING — The Barlow High School field hockey team wrapped up its second straight undefeated run through its South-West Conference regular-season schedule Monday night with a 3-0 victory over Immaculate.

And while that is certainly cause for celebration, the Falcons have more important things to do right now than pat each other on the back. Like preparing for the SWC playoffs, which are scheduled to begin later this week. Because regular-season records are meaningless in the survive-and-advance, pressure-packed postseason.

“Just like last year, we have to go in confident, because we have the same record going into the postseason as we did last year,” Barlow senior captain Briana Marcelino said. “But we’re going to completely forget about this regular season. Everything starts new with the postseason, so we have to go into it playing with the same intensity we have been.”

And as the reigning SWC champions who haven’t lost to a conference opponent since they fell in triple overtime in the SWC semifinals in 2014, the Falcons know all eyes are on them as the postseason nears. The Falcons have won 14 straight since losing their non-conference season-opener at Staples — which, by the way, is still undefeated and has only allowed two goals all season.

The seedings and schedule for the eight-team SWC tournament have not yet been announced, although as the only team with an undefeated conference record, Barlow (14-1, 10-0 SWC) will be the top seed.

“Teams are definitely going to come after us their hardest,” said Marcelino, who scored two goals Monday night. “We just have to match up with that and keep playing as we have been.”

Barlow had reached new heights last season by winning its first conference title since the formation of the SWC in 1995, and then advancing all the way to the Class M state title game. For the Falcons this season, it’s been all about maintaining that winning edge and further establishing themselves as a perennial conference and state contender.

“We lost some integral players last year to graduation; we have four who are playing in college currently,” Barlow coach Connie Chapin said. “So, to step up and fill those slots with the leadership I’m seeing on the field is pretty special for me. These are good kids.”

Prior to last year, the last time Barlow had played in the SWC field hockey final was 1995 — the year the SWC replaced the old Western Connecticut Conference. That Barlow team, coached by Nicole Gaudet, fell to Linda Dirga’s Pomperaug team in the SWC final, then advanced all the way to the Class S state semifinals.

“The kids have responded very, very well, and they like the winning, so we’ve changed the culture here at Barlow,” Chapin said. “Our kids do not like to lose, and we’ve come back from behind a couple times this year with some pretty impressive goals.”

After a scoreless first half Monday, Marcelino put Barlow ahead to stay with 23:04 remaining, blasting home a long shot off a corner stroke from Kailey Lauter. Exactly five minutes later, from exactly the same spot off the same corner stroke set-up from Lauter, Marcelino buried her second goal of the night to make it 2-0. With 55 seconds remaining, Marcelino fired another long-range rocket that banged off the goal post, missing a hat trick by mere inches.

With eight seconds remaining, Emma Boland knocked home the rebound of a Marcelino shot to make it 3-0.

The final score, however, might not indicate how close of a game this was.

“I’m very happy with how we played tonight,” Immaculate coach Matt Ariniello said. “We played a heck of a first half, I just wish we played the second half the way we played the first half.”

Barlow goalie Tatiana Naclerio made four saves to preserve the shutout, while Mackenzie Riofrio made 12 saves for Immaculate (10-4, 6-4 SWC).

“She had a couple great saves tonight,” Ariniello said said of his goalie.

Immaculate, last year’s SWC runner-up, has enjoyed an impressive regular season of its own, which included a nine-game winning streak.

“We just have to pick ourselves back up and get into playoff mode,” Ariniello said. “We’ll get back to work tomorrow and fix some kinks.”

BARLOW 3, IMMACULATE 0

IMMACULATE0 0 — 0

BARLOW0 3 — 3

Records: Immaculate 10-4-0-0, 6-4-0-0 SWC; Barlow 14-1-0-0, 10-0-0-0 SWC. Goals: Ba—Briana Marcelino 2, Emma Boland. Assists: Ba—Kailey Lauter 2, Marcelino. Goalies: I—Mackenzie Riofrio (12 saves); Ba—Tatiana Naclerio (4 saves).