NEW CANAAN — Judging by their coach’s reaction following today’s FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal game with New Canaan, the members of the Wilton boys lacrosse team were in no need for a motivational speech.
They could just feed off of John Wiseman’s anger.
The Warriors were upset at being seeded fifth and channeled that emotion into an energetic 9-7 win over the No. 4 Rams.
“We had a chip on our shoulders. A chip on our shoulders this entire season,” said Joe Murtha, who finished with 3 goals and an assist for Wilton. “We expected a higher ranking and got no respect. A five seed? We should have gotten higher and we came out and we showed it.”
On the same field that the Warriors opened the season with a loss on a goal with 11 seconds remaining, Wiseman was outspoken about having to open the tournament on the road, several spots lower than he felt his team deserved.
“Well yeah, of course we should have been higher,” Wiseman said. “It’s a complete joke. The FCIAC intelligentsia, I guess they’re smarter than me. I didn’t get my membership card.”
Unlike most other sports, the draw for the lacrosse tournaments is done by vote because of an unbalanced schedule, which allows elite teams to arrange games against strong opponents out of state.
Wiseman said since only Darien had more wins against the top five teams in the conference, Wilton should have been seeded higher than the three schools ahead of them.
What was beyond dispute is that the Warriors (13-4) are very talented, and many of their best players are not seniors. Trailing at the half, 5-3, they rebounded to score five unanswered goals.
After the Rams’ Graham Braden ended the run with a goal off a spin move to make the score 8-6 with 2:32 left, Peter Koch answered a half minute later to secure the win.
Wilton will face Darien in Tuesday’s semifinals. Greenwich and Ridgefield, the second and third seeds, respectively, will meet in the other game.
“We expected to win,” Murtha said. “We did a great job on offense. We really slowed it down, stayed patient, stayed poised. We waited to attack. Slowed down the pace of the game.”
Logan McGovern finished with 2 goals for the Warriors. Andrew Calabrese, a sophomore, had a big game in goal with 13 saves, including five in the final quarter, while Chris Sweeney, a junior, held his own on draw controls.
“They’ve got a lot of threats, you’ve got to cover them,” Wiseman said. “The defense did a tremendous job, Andrew did a great job, Sweeney did a great job on the faceoffs. It was a great team win.”
Graham Braden, who scored the decisive goal in the teams’ first meeting, led the Rams with 3 goals. Ryan O’Connell added a pair and Drew Morris stopped 9 shots in goal.
This is the first time the Rams lost to Wilton and failed to get past the first round of the league tournament since Chip Buzzeo took over as their coach five years ago. It also means that unless they play in the state playoffs, the Rams will not get a rematch against Darien, their biggest rival.
“You don’t want to lose a playoff game, especially with the opportunity to play Darien, but hand it to Coach Wiseman,” Buzzeo said. “He had a good gameplan. It’s painful not being able to play in those games because it is a lot of fun and to be honest I don’t know what it’s going to feel like. It’s been a really tough week.”
The Rams ended the regular season on Wednesday with a loss to Ridgefield, costing them the chance to be seeded one or two spots higher.
“Wilton played great,” Buzzeo said. “They outplayed us in the second half. I think they just out-executed us. Their defense made some really incredible plays and their stick checks were dead on our guys. It wasn’t anything we didn’t do, it was more they did it better than us.”
Murtha said the Warriors were looking forward to getting a second chance to play the Blue Wave, ranked as the nation’s top team in one poll.
“We’re really deep and it shows,” Murtha said. “We’re ready to go.”