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Erin Massmann, Tiffany Zullo spark Connetquot to first postseason win since 1997

Connetquot's Erin Massmann is seen during a Suffolk

Connetquot's Erin Massmann is seen during a Suffolk girls field hockey playoff game against Newfield. (Oct. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Richard T.Slattery

Uh-oh! Here was Connetquot, in its first playoff game in three years, on the road against surging Newfield, with the opposing fans howling -- as was the wind. Keep in mind the Thunderbirds hadn't won a playoff game since before most of its players were born.

And then, almost immediately, Connetquot fell behind.

OK. So?

"We're not the kind of team that panics over stuff like that," forward Erin Massmann said. "When things get tough, we just come together and get it all settled."

But what about the pressure of playing such a game away from home? Please! That's nothing for a team that played all but one of its games on the road last season as its field was under construction.

"It doesn't matter where we play," Massmann said. "We just have to win."

They won. Massmann had two goals and an assist as ninth-seeded Connetquot beat Newfield, 5-1, Saturday in the first round of the Suffolk Class A field hockey playoffs. It was the Thunderbirds' first postseason victory since 1997.

"I've been here seven years and we've only seen the playoffs twice," coach Jennifer Piscitelli said. "This win is an accomplishment and it's especially rewarding for the seniors who've been through it all."

Alison DiPaolo scored 6:03 in to give No. 8 Newfield a 1-0 lead, but Connetquot roared back. Massmann's goal, off a feed from Angela Schuler, tied it with 15:36 left in the first half.

On a fast break, Christina Politano drove toward the left post and drew the goalie out before sending a quick cross to Gabrielle Martinez, who tapped it in for the go-ahead score 11:50 before halftime.

Politano and Tiffany Zullo each had a goal and assist, and Christina Malinowski made four saves for Connetquot (10-5). Maria Daume had a save for Newfield (10-5), which made its first playoff appearance since 2005.

"We worked so hard to make the playoffs and we didn't want to just get here and lose," Zullo said. "Ball movement was something we worked on a lot in practice and I think it really showed."

With the lead, Connetquot's defense stymied the Wolverines. They seldom allowed drives to reach the scoring circle, forced several turnovers in transition, and nullified two second-half penalty corners -- one of which Zullo deflected and stole with 12:26 left.

"We didn't change our strategy much after [Newfield] went ahead," defender Nicole Arceri said. "We just had to be alert, more aggressive and stay on top of everything."

Massman's second goal -- off a drive and dish from Zullo on a corner -- put them up 3-1 midway through the second half. Zullo scored on a penalty stroke to create the final margin with 4:12 to go.

Of course, the proverbial road ahead gets tougher for Connetquot. They'll face top-seeded Sachem East, the two-time defending state champs, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Flaming Arrows haven't lost a game since 2011 and thumped the Thunderbirds twice in the regular season.

"We know what we're up against," Piscitelli said. "We'll work hard, and play with heart and intensity. We've been in difficult situations before and this team doesn't just bow out."

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