New Canaan edges Wilton in FCIAC boys lax playoffs

A game that both head coaches expected to be an intense, close battle was exactly that.

Jack Hoelzer's goal with 8:08 to play in the final quarter provided the razor-thin winning margin as host New Canaan defeated Wilton, 7-6, in an FCIAC boys lacrosse quarterfinal contest Saturday afternoon at Dunning Stadium.

The third-seeded Rams will now meet second-seed Ridgefield in the semifinals on Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.

Wilton, the sixth seed in the conference playoffs, will await the start of the Class L state tournament.

Although Hoefler's goal, off an an assist from Clayton Burt, broke a 6-6 tie, Wilton had chances to get the equalizer. With about seven minutes remaining, a New Canaan foul gave the Warriors a one-minute man-advantage. Wilton worked the ball around but couldn’t get off a shot before the penalty expired.

Wilton's last real chance came when it was awarded the ball with 30 seconds to play following a New Canaan foul. But the Warriors turned the ball over, and New Canaan ran out the clock.

“We didn’t get many shots on goal today, but we took the right ones and we scored on them,” said New Canaan head coach Chip Buzzeo.“Their zone defense limited our shot attempts.

"This game was a battle of two very good teams in the conference, and we’re glad we came out on top," added Buzzeo. "This was an emotional week for the team; we closed out the regular season with two hard-fought losses. We learned a lesson from those losses that we need to get up and play as a team if we want to continue our season."

“It was a great game," said Wilton head coach John Wiseman. "Both teams battled all game long; we won the ground ball and face-off wars and the game came right down to the wire. I would like to have back their opening goal, which could have changed the outcome of the game. Our team played hard and we showed that there is a lot of parity in this league."

Wilton’s RJ Romeo won the game’s opening face-off, but the visitors turned the ball over in their own zone and Burt capitalized, scoring just 12 seconds into the first quarter.

Although the Warriors were getting good looks at the New Canaan net, goalie Drew Morris came up with five huge saves to keep Wilton off the scoreboard. At the other end of the field the Rams were limited by the fast-reacting Warrior defense, but when they did get off a shot they were able to score.

With 2:50 left in the quarter, Kyle Smith bounced a shot past Wilton goalie Andrew Calabrese for a 2-0 New Canaan lead. And with 1:30 remaining in the period, Smith assisted on a goal by Ryan O’Connell, staking the home team to a 3-0 lead.

The Warriors regrouped and got their first goal of the game early in the second quarter. Freshman Connor Drake found Harrison Bardwell open at the side of the net, and Bardwell beat Morris to cut the New Canaan lead to 3-1.

The Rams regained their three-goal lead just two minutes later when Smith scored his second goal on an assist from O’Connell, but Wilton replied with two goals in the final 2:56 of the second quarter. Kieran McGovern scored an unassisted goal after attacking from the side of the net, and John Maudsley followed with a goal assisted by Harrison Koch with 25 seconds left that cut New Canaan's halftime lead to 4-3.

The Rams got a man-up goal with 10:38 remaining in the third quarter for a 5-3 lead. New Canaan capitalized on the game’s first penalty, with O’Connell getting the goal off an assist from Peter Swindell.

Wilton scored on its first man-up situation with 5:10 to play in the third to again close within one at 5-4. Peter Koch got the man-up goal, assisted by Drake. Harrison Koch then added a goal in the last minute of the period to tie the game.

Just 30 seconds into the final quarter, Smith’s third goal of the game gave New Canaan a 6-5 lead. Wilton answered less than a minute to retie the game, as Harrison Koch got his second goal, assisted by Drake.

But Hoelzer followed with his go-ahead goal, and this time the Warriors were unable to come up with the equalizer.