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'Dangerous' call kills celebration

The timekeeper tapped her head to alert the officials that time had expired. But there was one play left to be made.

The Western women's field hockey team had been awarded a corner in the waning seconds of the gold-medal game against Hudson Valley at the Empire State Games. Western had one chance to wipe out a 1-0 deficit.

As every out-of-bounds pass had, this one came straight to Chantae Miller, a senior at Williamsville North. She slapped at the ball, sending it whizzing past the goalie and into the net.

And that's when Western's luck ended.

The split-second of celebration was interrupted by the official's whistle. The goal -- which would have forced overtime and given Western a chance to win -- was disallowed due to a dangerous play: Miller lifted the ball too high into the crowd of players in front of the goal. Game over. Hudson Valley wins.

"We were so hyped up about wanting to win that we psyched ourselves out," said Nicole Lewis, Western's goalkeeper.

Signs of dejection and anguish were less apparent than expected, probably because Western was a field hockey medal winner for the first time in 10 years. The team took silver under current coach Peter Tonsoline in 1998. The last gold was in 1981, long before any of this year's competitors was born.

"We've had a drought, but this is probably the best team I've put together," said Tonsoline, reflecting on his 17 years of service. "I didn't know much about the competition. I thought Hudson Valley was going to be down this year, but little did I know."

Tonsoline attended his son's wedding on Friday and missed his team's victory over Hudson Valley, which came in penalty strokes. Miller, playing in her fourth Games, netted the game-winning stroke while Hudson Valley missed all five attempts.

Ironically -- and unfortunately for Western -- Hudson Valley's persistence paid off. It scored Sunday on a stroke, giving the team a 1-for-7 stroke-conversion rate at the Games.

"Probability is they're going to put one in sooner or later," Tonsoline said. "[Lewis] is great on the strokes too, but it was a good shot and she can't stop everything. It was early in the game too, and it shouldn't be a factor. It's in the end of the game that it's a back-breaker."

Although the stroke was the only goal, it was not for a lack of opportunities. Hudson Valley converted none of its 13 corners and dominated possession for nearly all of the first half, despite being constantly shut down by Lewis and the Western defense.

"In the first half we played tight, they played loose," Tonsoline said. "In the second half we adjusted, and I thought we were matched up pretty evenly. Now it came down to who is going to catch a break."


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