RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield boys lacrosse coach Roy Colsey said introducing an All-American back into the lineup is not as simplistic as just a major talent boost, in this case Greg Gatto, who made his return from a broken wrist last week in the final regular season game, against Fairfield Ludlowe.
“It may be as big an adjustment for us as it is to them, believe it or not,” Colsey said, referring to the Tigers’ opponents. “He hasn’t been here the whole season. Guys have fallen into roles and learned what they need to do to win games, and I think that’s going to make us a stronger team because a lot of guys have had had to step up and score goals and make plays in his absence. Now that he’s back we have all those players plus him.”
Judging from today’s FCIAC quarterfinal game against Greenwich, saying the Tigers are strong in transition is a multi-faceted statement.
Ray Dearth and John Mathes capitalized on having more room to maneuver by scoring four goals apiece, and Gatto added two goals and two assists in a 15-8 win.
“Obviously he draws a lot of attention because he’s a great player, so he’s going to draw a lot of double teams and that’s going to leave a lot of guys open,” Dearth said.
The third-seeded Tigers (12-4) scored seven unanswered goals in the first half after the Cardinals had tied the game at 2-2 with just over four minutes left in the opening quarter.
Gatto finished with five goals and two assists in his season debut four days ago.
“We played 15 games without him,” Colsey said. “No matter what you do in any team sport where you have five or six players on the court, whether it’s basketball, hockey or lacrosse, when you add in someone like him, especially someone who is such an alpha player like him, we have to adjust to that.”
Eight different players scored for the Tigers, who will play second-seeded New Canaan in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We knew we had to come out strong because starting was a really big thing for us this year,” Dearth said. “We fell behind them when we played them earlier and we were able to come back, so I’m glad we were able to jump ahead this game. We were really efficient. I think there were just three or four times we had the ball on offense we didn’t score. Having Gatto back really helps. John Mathes stepped up big time today.”
While the sixth-seeded Cardinals (7-10) held a 15-12 edge in faceoffs, Ridgefield dominated control of the ball during its pivotal run.
“I think we just limited turnovers because that’s been a big thing for us this year,” Dearth said. “We’ve had a lot of unforced turnovers in some games so it was good to keep them down this game.”
Leo Johnson finished with two goals and three assists for the Cardinals, while Jackson Trimmer, Jack Feda and Lance Large scored twice each.
Greenwich found its rhythm in the second half, but was chasing an 11-4 halftime deficit.
“You dig yourself a hole and it puts a little more pressure on the offense, because they feel they have to score every single time,” Greenwich coach Bobby Lutz said. “Offensively, if you look at how many times we’ve gotten possessions, we’re producing on offense. It’s nice to see that the offense is strong but in a game like today, in the playoffs, you need stronger defense. We struggle at times.”
Colsey said he noticed subtle differences in Gatto’s second appearance.
“I think in our first Ludlowe game he was trying to make up for the first 15 games in the first quarter,” Colsey said. “I think he did a little bit better job today of letting the game come to him and willing to be a big cog, but still a cog within the system, and that’s how we’re going to be more dangerous.”
The Tigers played well without their leader, now they are rediscovering how to execute with him, making themselves a title threat in the process.
“All of us, myself included and all the offensive guys, are just learning to incorporate him and use him to the best of his ability to make us a stronger offense,” Colsey said. “If nothing else he’s such a presence. His attitude and how physical he is and how talented he is, that’s going to help us the most. The fact he’s on the field and people have to account for him is going to allow other guys to be more valuable.”