BRISTOL - The most comfortable spot on the field for Maya Gajowiak lies just a few feet behind the goal.
That’s not where the Newington girls lacrosse team necessarily strategizes its 2018 all-conference standout to line up, but it’s certainly become Gajowiak’s hot spot where she makes her money. On Friday evening, the senior cashed in with four goals and five assists, most of her passes coming from behind the net, during a 13-3 Indians win over Bristol Central
“That’s my favorite place to go because I think I’m better at assists than I am scoring,” Gajowiak said. “I think I have good vision from behind the field, so I like people cutting for me so I can get them the pass.”
One of Newington’s main offensive plays, she says, is called “Box,” a four-corners look where two feeders set up behind the net and two cutters slash to the middle. It’s one of the plays the club utilized often to build a 6-1 lead at halftime and dominate possession in the first half.
The Indians shot 15 attempts in the first half, compared to the Rams’ four, and finished the game with a 32-12 advantage in the category.
“I think when we get the ball into the middle, every time it’s a shot. If we can get it into the middle, it’s a goal every time, so that’s one of our main focuses,” Gajowiak said. “I’m just more comfortable there. I’d rather be there than up top, because I think I’m more of a threat back there. … We’re always moving around. We don’t do the same thing every time. But since today it was working, we just kept doing it.”
Gajowiak scored the Indians’ first goal at the 17:03 mark, slicing into the teeth of the Rams’ defense and flipping in a shot.
On her first assist from behind the net, Gajowiak connected with Sam Giudice for a 2-0 lead with 14:16 left, and her second assist came after Reagan Pelton made a nice grab and quickly flicked in a bounce shot at the 8:33 mark.
The Indians then blitzed Central to close the half, as Hannah Drew (2:30), Morgan Hellman (1:50) and Katie Damato (1:40) each punched in a goal for a 6-0 lead.
Ashley Watson cut the Rams’ deficit at the break to five, rocketing in a submarine-style shot with 21 seconds remaining.
Despite racking up the five-goal lead at the break, Newington’s offense had trouble finding the net as Rams goalie Liz Hintz was a wall in the goal. She blocked a handful of shots with her body and deflected several others with her stick in amassing eight saves on the first 10 shots and finishing with 19 saves in the game.
“Liz kept us in the game early,” Rams head coach Kyle Phelan said. “We had a bunch of turnovers early, giving up a lot of possessions to them, and Liz definitely kept us in the game. She finished the game with 19 saves, and those ones early were bigger than just one save. When you’re on your heels a lot and you have your goalie standing up in the goal like that and standing on her head making some saves, those are some really big, big saves for us.”
It was a nice bounce back game for Hintz, who had struggled in a loss to Rockville on Thursday. That’s something the Rams (3-9) and Phelan have come to expect from the junior netminder.
“Liz has a rare ability that when she gets a little frustrated, her game actually elevates,” Phelan said. “A lot of kids at this age, when they get out of their comfort zone, they go the opposite way. Liz has the ability to actually step up and play better. She’s looking to play in college. She’s been contacting coaches, and I definitely think she has that ability if she continues on the path she’s on, she’s gonna be a phenomenal goalie in this age group.”
Pelton opened the second-half scoring by sprinting through the left side of the Rams defense, crossing over to the right and firing in a shot for a 7-1 cushion at the 22:18 mark.
On a penalty shot, Rams senior Jade Longo trimmed the margin to 7-2 with 20 minutes left, but Giudice scored off another assist from Gajowiak exactly 30 seconds later.
Watson, however, scored 30 seconds later as well, sprinting down the middle of the field uncontested and earning a penalty shot she would convert. After a running shot by Longo that would have cut it to a four-goal game - saved by Indians goalie Kali Lessard, who finished with nine saves - Gajowiak added another goal with 18 minutes remaining for a 9-3 lead.
Gajowiak then scored again with 12:38 left, and she added another assist and another goal down the stretch for the Indians (8-5), who have now won four straight. That includes an 8-6 senior night triumph over Rocky Hill on Wednesday that qualified them for the Class L state tournament - their first playoff appearance since 2014.
Gajowiak was a standout on the Indians’ girls basketball team that advanced to the Class LL state tournament quarterfinals two months ago. With those two wins, the program ended a nine-year postseason game winless drought.
Gajowiak and the Indians are looking to end a similar skid for the girls lacrosse team, which hasn’t tasted a playoff win since an 11-8 Class L first-round victory over Southington at the end of that 2014 campaign.
“After our last game, that was the game we made states, so every game pushing forward, we’re just focusing on states and what we need to do better in states because we haven’t won a first-round game in the longest time,” Gajowiak said. “We haven’t made states in the past four years, so this is a big step for us. Everything we’re doing now - in our last couple games we’re trying to win all of them - is to prepare us for states because we want to prove something again.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or