NORWALK — The soon-to-be seniors on the New Canaan lacrosse team felt a sense of urgency not long after last season ended in the state semifinals.
A few were part of CIAC title teams as freshmen and sophomores when the Rams were still playing in Class M. But the program had not won an FCIAC title since 2013, and for many, there would not be many chances left to be part of the “pile” at the end of a championship win.
That feeling of desperation returned tonight, when New Canaan, which had advanced to the final on a semifinal goal at the buzzer, trailed Wilton, 4-1. The Warriors’ Andrew Calabrese was impenetrable in goal.
“We needed the ball,” Rams coach Chip Buzzeo said. “I thought Wilton did a great job possessing the ball, getting groundballs. What helped us is we settled down on offense, we moved the ball and we found some open looks. Offense is patience. You have to be patient, you can’t rush it, you can’t force it. More importantly you have to believe in your teammates and play together. We started doing that and the shots started to fall, arguably against the best goalie in the state of Connecticut.”
Let by a balanced attack, and an outstanding game in goal by Carl Mazabras, the Rams scored six straight times and held on at the end for an 8-7 win at Brien McMahon.
“One-goal games aren’t won in May or June, they’re won in the winter time,” said Quintin O’Connell, the Rams’ All-American middle, who scored both of his goals at the start of the second half to make the score 7-4, their biggest lead of the game. “Since the minute we lost last year in the state semifinals, I think that’s when you earn those one-goal games. To stand on top today is more than we can ask for. At the end of every practice we break it down and say ‘Family,’ and I think that’s it. When you have such a strong supporting group behind you that is your family, that you love and bleed for and you sweat for every day, you’re down 4-1, you’re not worried about it.”
Drew Guida and Liam Griffiths also scored twice for the third-seeded Rams (14-5) in a Final Four where all three games were decided by one goal.
“This is a senior class that was told no a lot,” O’Connell said. “A lot of people lost faith in us from a lacrosse aspect. To be the team that brings it home to New Canaan, we’re beyond proud.”
Mazabras, a senior who often gets overshadowed by some of the league’s other goaltenders but has been steady throughout his career, was named the most valuable player, which was an extremely popular choice for the Rams.
“He’s just a really good player that just goes about his business,” Buzzeo said. “He’s not flashy. Our league’s flooded with good goalies. We’ve always had good goalies throughout our whole league. Carl is definitely one of the best.”
Mazabras said he has been unconcerned about his status compared to the FCIAC’s other top goaltenders.
“It doesn’t bug me, I don’t care,” Mazabras said. “I’m just going to play my game and whatever happens, happens. It’s good to get this for the team. We’ve wanted this for four years now.”
It was a discouraging loss for the fourth-seeded Warriors (10-9), who had won nine of their previous 10 games after a slow start. They defeated Staples in overtime in the quarterfinals and then upset Darien in the semifinals.
This time they came out on the wrong end of a one-goal game.
“We said before the game we thought we needed to get to nine and we came up two short,” Wilton coach Steve Pearsall said. “I thought we had a lot of opportunities, I thought our offense was generating shots. Their goalie played really well, especially down there at the end. He had a couple key saves. Hats off to New Canaan. We jumped out a little bit and they came right back and got momentum before halftime. We had a little life at the end. I thought we were going to put one in at the end.”
Dean DiNanno, who finished with three goals, and Reilly Sullivan scored to get the Warriors within 7-6 with 9:34 left. Griffiths answered for the Rams, but DiNanno scored with 36 seconds remaining.
Wilton won the ensuing faceoff but could not equalize. Mazabras stopped four shots in the final quarter.
“I always tell the kids I never get nervous because I’m prepared, but that’s a total lie. I was pretty nervous all game but that kid doesn’t get nervous,” Buzzeo said of his goaltender. “He’s such a good person. I couldn’t be more happy for him. This is the kind of game you want to play as a senior.”
A league championship a year in the making proved as meaningful for the Rams’ coach as his players.
“This is not an easy league to win,” Buzzeo said. “There are so many good teams. To win it, it probably won’t hit me for a couple days, but I’m pretty emotional.”