NORWALK — It was unfathomable to think there could be anything more dramatic at tonight’s FCIAC boys lacrosse semifinals than Chris Canet’s goal at the final buzzer to give New Canaan an 11-10 win over Ridgefield in the opening game.
That was until 2 1/2 hours later, when Wilton halted top-seeded Darien’s five-year reign as conference champion with a grinding 4-3 win, ending its 15-year absence from the final.
“We came into this saying we have nothing to lose, only stuff to prove,” said Warriors goaltender Andrew Calabrese, who stopped 10 shots and was the most valuable player on the field. “We had a no-fly zone on defense and that’s what we did, we executed.”
On the same McMahon field where Ridgefield ended Darien’s 76-game winning streak in the state final 11 months ago, both teams, undefeated in league play at the start of the night, somewhat improbably were both sent home.
It is debatable which team had the tougher loss.
Fourth-seeded Wilton (10-8), which started the season 1-7, won its second straight playoff game by a 4-3 margin, following Saturday’s overtime win over Darien.
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) May 22, 2019
It took a magnificent defensive performance; the Blue Wave (13-5) were held scoreless for the first 16:16 and then another 27 minutes, the difference between Tommy Hellman’s two goals. The first was the opening score of the game. The second cut Wilton’s lead to 3-2.
After Calabrese made a great save to deny Hellman a hat trick, Reilly Sullivan, who scored the game-winning goal in the quarterfinal, made the score 4-2 with 1:53 remaining.
Hudson Pokorny got Darien within a goal with 52 seconds left, but the Warriors were able to run out the clock.
“We put in a plan,” said Steve Pearsall, the Warriors’ first-year coach. “We were trying to keep them down the alleys for the most part the best we could because they like to come across the top side. I guess it was throwing them a little bit off. Our defense played tough, our goalie was unbelievable.”
The Warriors played the entire match as if they thought, not hoped, they would win.
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) May 21, 2019
“I think as the game went on we got more resilient and more belief,” Pearsall said. “Darien obviously has been on a serious streak, the top team in the state and one of the top teams in the country. Keeping them to zero goals in the first quarter gave us a little confidence.”
Andrew Luciano scored twice and John Kauffman also had a goal for Wilton.
In contrast, the Blue Wave got more frustrated as the game wore on, best evidenced by the placement of shots.
“Unfortunately when you are being handled by a good defense that puts a little pressure on you,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “Floodgates can always open any time with our offense and unfortunately it never did, and then I think they started to doubt or they were getting outplayed. Credit to Wilton. Their de stepped up and played a great game. We played a great game defensively. We liked our matchups, we held them in check.”
If your preference is spectacular buzzer-beaters, than the night’s opener may have been more to your liking. Ridgefield came back from a 10-8 deficit to tie the game with goals 41 seconds apart, the second by Ryan Colsey with just 26 seconds remaining.
Third-seeded New Canaan (13-5) enjoyed a 17-4 edge in faceoffs, the last by Justin Wietfeldt to set up a final chance at the win. Canet, a sophomore, was cast as point guard, tasked with driving the lane and creating.
“I don’t want to give up any plays but basically at the end of the game Coach put me up top and spread out the offense and just told me go to the goal and try to make something happen,” said Canet, referring to Rams coach Chip Buzzeo.
Canet, pressured by the Tigers’ Kai Prohaszka, initially lost possession before regaining composure, navigating through three defenders and scoring into the bottom left side.
“If I’m being honest the clock was behind me so I couldn’t really see the time,” Canet said. “I just knew I had to go to the goal and try to make something happen for my team. I just aimed for that low corner and hoped it went in.”
The buzzer sounded as Canet ran to the corner, was mobbed by teammates, then led a conga line of players back down toward the other end of the field.
“For a sophomore to make that type of play….” Buzzeo said. “He’s not your ordinary type of sophomore. He’s the fastest guy on our team. We give him the ball at the end of the game and hopefully he makes a great play, and he did. You hate to see a loser in that type of a game because it hurts so much but both teams played great. It’s a tribute to how special this league is.”
The second-seeded Tigers (15-3) never led in the game. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit and again after trailing, 9-5, late in the third quarter.
“We were up the whole game and our priority, our gameplan, was we could not go down to this team because of the way they can hold the ball and gain long possessions,” Buzzeo said. “We didn’t want to have to catch up. Our goal was to stay ahead of them. We won every draw and our guys did a great job on faceoff X, as always, and generated some offense off the faceoff, which we wanted to do.”
Liam Griffiths and Quintin O’Connell led the Rams with four and three goals, respectively. Ryan Caione scored twice, while Carl Mazabras had a strong game in goal.
Colsey scored four goals for Ridgefield. Weston Carpenter and Ray Dearth scored twice each. Dan Parson had a big day in goal.
“I’m super proud of them against a ton of adversity and down four goals and not winning I don’t know how many faceoffs,” Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey said. “But they didn’t quit, guys stepped up and made plays. We just made too many mistakes early in the game. Give credit to New Canaan. They were able to withstand a pretty good run at the end and then Canet made a great play. The draw was the difference in the game, even on the last play. They were much better than us in that facet of the game and second-chance ground balls.”