NEW CANAAN — The third time was the charm for the Wilton boys lacrosse team.
The Warriors, who lost twice previously to FCIAC rival New Canaan, grabbed a lead for good at 7-6 late in the first half and held off the eventual Rams onslaught to come away with a 14-11 victory in the CIAC Class L state quarterfinals today at Dunning Stadium.
Wilton (13-8), the No. 19 seed, avenged last week’s FCIAC championship loss to No. 6 New Canaan (15-4) and advances to the state semifinals. It will take on another team it lost to already, No. 2 Fairfield Prep, on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.
“It was an awesome feeling after two losses to them,” Wilton coach Steve Pearsall said. “It was a great battle, a classic Wilton-New Canaan game.”
Every possession was crucial to the Warriors due to the fact the Rams had a 23-6 edge in faceoffs and a 36-26 advantage in shots.
“Our offense stepped up and really shot well today,” Pearsall said. “That was something we were stressing going into the game — having quality shots and also being accurate. I think we did that.”
Dean DiNanno led Wilton with six goals and an assist, with four of his goals coming in the first half, when Wilton took an 8-6 lead. Six other players scored for the Warriors, with Zach Rossi and Reilly Sullivan each registering two goals. Rossi had two assists and Sullivan one.
Also coming up huge for the Warriors was standout goalie Andrew Calabrese, who finished with 13 saves.
“Andrew has been that way all season,” Pearsall said. “He’s an unbelievable goalie, the top goalie in the state as far as I’m concerned. He’s been a brick wall back there for us.”
Wilton went ahead 3-0 early, only to see New Canaan come back, just like it did in the FCIAC final. The Rams took their first lead at 5-4 thanks to consecutive goals by Liam Griffiths, who matched DiNanno with six goals.
New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said it was hard to say goodbye to his senior class.
“Wilton just made a few extra plays than us,” said Buzzeo, who gave a great deal of credit to the Wilton defense and Calabrese. “Both teams played great and it’s been a battle all year between these two teams and throughout our history.”
Ryan Schriber had the decisive seventh goal with 2:22 left in the half and DiNanno put Wilton on top 8-6 with 58.4 seconds on the clock. It seemed like the Rams would light up the scoreboard in the final seconds but Calabrese made a key save to keep the Warriors ahead by two at halftime.
“I’m one of the oldest kids on the field so I sit there and realize I’ve done this before and I have to trust my experience,” said Calabrese, a senior. “It also helps that my defense is the best in the state, I think, and it’s the best I’ve ever played with.”
At the start of the third quarter, Wilton’s Drew Herlyn had a big hit on a New Canaan attacker which caused a turnover and Reilly Sullivan went the length of the field to score and give the Warriors a 9-6 lead with 10:56 left. Griffiths answered with a quick goal six seconds later off the faceoff to cut the lead to 9-7.
The Rams kept within two goals until Tyler Previte scored for an 11-8 lead with six minutes remaining. The Warriors had a three-goal edge going into the final quarter.
DiNanno gave his team its biggest lead at 12-8 off an assist from Liam Sullivan.
“It’s always a big game playing against them,” DiNanno said. “We shared the ball really well and we played together. They can score fast so we had to keep our foot on the pedal.”
Quintin O’Connell (3 goals, 2 assists) scored off an assist from Teddy Manges with 7:59 left to cut Wilton’s lead to 12-10 and the Rams got the ball back 34 seconds later. Calabrese came up with a save and on their next possession, DiNanno scored off a rebound following a save from goalie Carl Mazabras (three saves) to put the Warriors ahead 13-10.
Griffiths added another goal from Ryan Caione with 5:29 left, but the Rams couldn’t get a good look the remainder of the game. Reilly Sullivan added an empty-net goal with 15.7 left to round out the scoring.
Despite starting the season 1-7, the Warriors regrouped and are on the precipice of playing for a state championship. Pearsall said his players showed great fortitude and unity.
Now the Warriors will battle another team it lost to during the regular season in Fairfield Prep, which beat Newtown, 15-5, in the quarterfinals.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Pearsall said. “They’re a great team and they’re playing really well right now. It’s going to be tough.”
Maybe the second time against the Jesuits will be the charm for Wilton.