NEW CANAAN, Conn. — The New Canaan Rams have one of the most storied boys lacrosse programs in the history of Connecticut high school athletics. But the Rams have been missing something for the past seven years: a championship.
New Canaan hasn’t won an FCIAC or state title since the 2003 club went a perfect 22-0, or "double deuce" as the players that year liked to call it. This year’s squad missed its chance to win the FCIAC championship when the Rams were upset by Greenwich, 5-4, in the final, but a State Class M crown is squarely in their sights.
New Canaan knocked off the Hand (Madison) Tigers, 10-5, with a dominating defensive effort and an even-paced offensive attack in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Dunning Field. The win moved the Rams just one victory from a trip to the state championship game.
Standing in their way next is defending Class M champion Darien, New Canaan’s chief rival, which is bound to be buzzing after falling to Greenwich, 8-7, in the FCIAC semifinals. Darien beat Wilton, 10-9, in the quarterfinals on Saturday. No. 3 New Canaan (17-4) and No. 2 Darien (18-3) will face off in the semifinals on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Fairfield-Ludlowe High School. New Fairfield faces Conard in the other Class M semifinal at 7:15 p.m.
New Canaan head coach Alex Whitten pointed to the state championship banner hanging in the NCHS gymnasium while speaking to his team before the quarterfinal game Saturday.
"It’s been seven years since we put one up there," Whitten told the Rams. "This is the legacy you guys want to leave and this is your opportunity."
In the win over Hand, the Rams got an outstanding performance from the defense, which allowed an early goal but then held the Tigers to just a single tally over the next 25 minutes as New Canaan took an 8-3 lead. Leading the way were senior long poles Kevin Campbell, Ian Knechtle and Bobby Femia, and sophomore goalie Thomas Carey, who collected eight saves.
"When our defense plays well, it just gives our offense a good chance to win the game," Campbell said. "We realize, we have to be the catalyst for our team. We just came out and said, ‘We have the best defense, this is our senior year; we can’t lose,’ and we just played our hearts out."
Offensively, the Rams had goals from nine different players, while senior Cody Newton scored twice. Also finding the cage were John Brainard, Oliver Norton, Peter Kraus, Joe Kahmann, Henry Eschricht, Sam Stanton, Joe Costigan and Scott O’Brien. Hand, which finished the season 10-8, received two goals from Robert Caserta, who briefly gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the game. Chad Crisco, Alec Pacelli and Elijah Ouellette also scored, while goalie Scott LaChappelle made 16 saves.
2. Darien wins nailbiter over Warriors: Darien’s quarterfinal win was a bit closer, as the Blue Wave (16-2) managed to hold off several charges from the Wilton Warriors for a 10-9 decision on Saturday.
Wilton led 2-0 early, but Darien came back with six unanswered tallies to take a 6-2 advantage in the second quarter. The Warriors, however, stemmed the tide and scored when Chris Nugent and Mike Serpa hit the back of the net to make it 6-4 with 7:29 remaining in the half.
Darien’s Alden Frelinghuysen put the Wave back on the board, but Wilton’s Mike Francia side-armed a goal to cut the deficit to 7-5. After Michael Greco scored to make it a one-goal game, Darien’s Brian Gleason took a feed from Case Matheis and scored with 11.9 seconds on the clock for an 8-6 halftime lead. Serpa opened the second half with his second goal to cut the deficit to 8-7, but Bobby Nolan scored for the Wave to again make it a two-goal edge at 9-7.
Once again, Wilton hung tough as Jon Andrews scored to make it a 9-8 game heading to the final frame. Henry West scored a huge goal for Darien, again off an assist from Matheis, when he hit the cage at 6:50 for a 10-8 lead. The Blue Wave defense then held the Warriors in check until Greco scored with 25.1 seconds to play. With a shot to tie the game in the balance, however, Wilton lost the ensuing faceoff and Darien ran out the clock for the victory.
Frelinghuysen and West each finished with a hat trick to lead the Wave (16-2) in scoring, while Gleason had two goals and an assist and Matheis had three assists. Also scoring were Bryan Annechino and Nolan. Goalie Andrew West made 10 saves.
For Wilton (12-6), Nugent had two goals and two assists, Serpa and Greco scored two apiece, and Francia had a goal and three assists. Daniel Bartram and Andrews also scored, while goalie Sam Somers made 17 saves.
3. Staples reaches first state semifinal: Looking to rebound from their upset loss to St. Joseph in the FCIAC quarterfinals, the Staples (Westport) Wreckers moved into the Class L semis with a 7-6 victory over the Simsbury Trojans in the quarterfinals Saturday in Westport.
Senior Kip Orban, who missed parts of the game when he had difficult breathing due to allergies, scored the game-winner with 1:07 remaining. No. 1 Staples improved to 18-1 and will face the fourth-seeded Fairfield Prep Jesuits (14-4) in the semifinals at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk. Prep beat FCIAC champion Greenwich 9-7 in the quarterfinals.
The Staples and Prep programs are a marked contrast, as the Wreckers will be making their first state semifinal appearance in program history, while Prep has won the Class L title in four straight years. Orban, Charlie Ross and Nate Greenberg each scored twice against Simsbury, while Nick Maki scored once and goalie Austin Walter made 10 saves.
Scoring for No. 9 Simsbury (11-6) were Tim Bulmer and Tim Woessner with two apiece, and Zach Day and Eric Hesketh with one each.
4. Once again, Prep starring in Class L spotlight: The Fairfield Prep Jesuits have come into the state playoffs under a variety of circumstances during the past few years. But whether the Jesuits are underdogs or heavy favorites, they always seem to shine when the spotlight is brightest.
The Jesuits, winners of the last four Class L championships, are gunning for their fifth and overcame a big obstacle when they defeated FCIAC champion Greenwich, 9-7, in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Prep will face Staples in the semis on Tuesday. The Greenwich Cardinals fought back several times against Prep and the score was tied at 7-7 early in the fourth quarter before the Jesuits scored twice to put the game in the books.
Griff McGoldrick had a big day with five goals and one assist, while Brendan Rotanz scored twice and had one assist. Mike Carey had three assists for the Jesuits, and Tyler Cox and Kevin Brown each scored once. Goalie Gil Long amassed 14 saves. For Greenwich, Pete Cabrera and Colin Dunster each had a goal and an assist. Also scoring were Dan Palmer, Eric Foote, Dave Fraser, Todd Stafford and Alec Webster. Goalie Daniel Feeney collected four saves.
5. Big inning dooms Ludlowe in Class L quarterfinals: Another FCIAC champion went down to defeat on Saturday when the Ludlowe (Fairfield) Falcons were trounced by the East Lyme Vikings, 14-2, in the quarterfinals of the State Class L baseball tournament.
Ludlowe committed three errors in the bottom of the third, as the Vikings batted around and scored 10 runs to blow open a close game. The inning included a two-run double off the bat of Brendan McDermott. The Falcons were trailing 3-1 heading into the inning but saw the deficit balloon to 10 runs at 13-1.
One bright spot for Ludlowe was the pitching of freshman Nick Chandler, who came in in relief to start the fourth inning. Chandler pitched three no-hit innings, allowing just one run on four walks. Eighth-seeded Ludlowe finished the season with a 20-6 record, while No. 1 East Lyme improved to 20-2. The Vikings will face No. 5 Notre Dame-West Haven (15-8) in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Palmer Field in Middletown.
Dave Stewart, the Sports Editor of the New Canaan (Conn.) Advertiser, is a MaxPreps.com writer and photographer. He may be reached at 203-966-9541 or at email@example.com.