Rams rally past Wilton in FCIAC quarters
The quick sticks were the difference.
Locked up in an 8-8 tie in the fourth quarter, the host New Canaan Rams boys lacrosse team struck for a trio of goals in a span of less than a minute and a half to claim the lead and suddenly seize control en route to a 12-8 over Wilton in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC tournament Saturday afternoon.
The Rams, the tournament's third-seeded team, advanced to face the seventh-seeded St. Joseph Cadets, a winner over No. 2 Staples on Tuesday afternoon in the tournament semis, a game that happened after press time. Wilton, the sixth seed, meanwhile will have to wait for the start of state tournament action to resume game play after watching a late second-half lead disappear.
The teams truly played back and forth throughout the afternoon, and it looked as if the game might just go Wilton's way before a scoring explosion and late-game domination in ball-control propelled the Rams to the win. New Canaan fell behind 8-6 but scored the game's last six goals.
Henry Eschricht scored a goal that was set up by Oliver Norton to put the Rams ahead to stay with 9:08 to play in the contest. Cody Newton proceeded to score a pair of unassisted goals -- with 8:24 and 7:42 to play -- to give the Rams some breathing room.
Sam Stanton capped the scoring with his fourth net-finder of the afternoon to put an exclamation point on the win with 37 seconds remaining. New Canaan escaped, and the finals.
Norton and Newton both had a pair of tallies, and Joe Costigan and Joseph Kahmann each netted goals in the win. Wilton was led by two-goal performances by John Andrews and Mike Serpa, and 18 saves by goaltender Devon Jeffries, who did all he could to keep his team in the game. New Canaan goalies Brian Karl and Thomas Carey combined for eight saves.
"It was great," Stanton said of the comeback win. "It was a very similar game to last time we played them."
New Canaan edged Wilton 10-9 during the regular season, one of several nail-biting, come-from-behind wins by the Rams this season.
"Our team is becoming a team that is able to grind out quality wins," Rams head coach Alex Whitten said.
With the Rams trailing 6-5 at the intermission, the New Canaan coach said the members of the coaching staff motivated the players to come back.
"We asked our guys at halftime to get the lead and not relinquish it," he said.
It took the Rams a little longer than they had hoped, but they're the ones moving on and still alive to steal the conference title for the first time under Whitten.
"Obviously it's frustrating -- it's disappointing," Wilton coach John Wiseman said.
The game came down to New Canaan capitalizing on some Wilton struggles down the stretch when the visitors tried to slow down the pace and sit on the lead.
"We didn't possess the ball and we made some errant passes, some forced passes," Wiseman said.
Whitten and the Rams discussed the importance of keeping cool under pressure and that paid off in the latter stages of the contest.
"Before the game we talked about poise. Don't panic, don't throw the ball away," Norton said.
Wilton certainly gave the Rams a run for their money.
"Wilton is a tough team. Those kids play with a lot of pride. They have a lot of heart -- they're well-coached," Whitten said.
Each side was visibly gassed after the high-velocity quarterfinal.
"I've probably never been more tired after a game," Norton added.
The Rams expected another tough battle on Tuesday against the Cadets, which the Rams defeated in a road game 11-6 on April 13.
"St. Joes is a well-coached team, they're a tough team. They're athletic," Whitten said.
The coach and his players, though, entered the game with plenty of confidence.
"We think if we play our way, our style, we're a tough team," said Whitten, alluding to New Canaan's fast-tempo, spread offense style of play.
With a win Tuesday, the Rams would play in the FCIAC finale on Friday at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 1 Darien and No. 5 Greenwich.