NORWALK — Chip Buzzeo’s voice was soft, his tone measured. New Canaan’s boys lacrosse coach praised his players for a heroic effort in today’s FCIAC championship game, one that would have resulted with the desired outcome on almost any other day, against any other opponent.
Unfortunately, the Rams were facing Darien, their biggest rival, one that always seems to find a way to keep winning, in games that go down to the final whistle, as this one literally did, and others that are decided not long after they have started.
New Canaan stormed back in the final quarter from a 12-8 deficit with four straight goals — two each from Quintin O’Connell and Owen Shin — in just under four minutes to tie the game.
Hudson Pokorny answered back with a spectacular goal to put the Blue Wave back on top with 4:50 remaining, and the defense made it stand up, with goaltender Sean Collins making four of his nine saves, including one at the buzzer on Walker Ker to preserve a 13-12 win.
So it was reasonable to ask Buzzeo how frustrating it has been the last four years to extol his players even though they ultimately went unrewarded.
Buzzeo started to talk, paused, then said, “That’s a tough one to answer.”
Just as tough as cracking the Blue Wave, who have now won 73 straight games — the last 19 this spring — and five straight league titles.
“Our guys were confident in the huddle and said we could come back and we thought we could, and we did, we just couldn’t put one in at the end there,” Buzzeo said. “It was a great game by both teams.”
It was a terrific final for drama. As Buzzeo put it, “This is what championship games should be. One-goal games.”
Darien has now played three this year and, obviously, been on the right side each time. That is what great teams do.
“Every year we’re shooting to go undefeated,” Collins said. “We all knew we had to play a part, everyone was going to have to chip in game by game and not get too ahead of ourselves and we knew we could make great things happen.”
That is the philosophy of Blue Wave perpetuity, a constant restocking of talent, more so this season than in recent years, but with the same results.
The goaltending spot was Darien coach Jeff Brameier’s biggest early April concern, but that seems so long ago with the way Collins has stepped up. He no longer seems like a first-year starter, having already earned his stripes.
“We’ve been very happy with his seasonal performance,” Brameier said. “He’s earned the right to be mentioned with all the top goalies that have come through our program. Sean’s had a great season and hopefully he has four more games left in him. A couple big-time saves.”
After Shin tied the game at 12-12, Nick Crovatto won the draw but Collins stopped Zach Miller. Crovatto captured the draw following Pokorny’s go-ahead goal, but Collins made a save on O’Connell, who finished with five goals and was even more dominant than almost exactly a month ago in a 9-7 loss.
Then, after a late turnover gave the Rams a final chance, Collins was a fortress one more time.
“He’s coming down the alley, he had I wouldn’t say a lot of net to shoot at, so I just used my body to fend it off,” Collins said. “You kind of just have to put it aside and separate the heat of the moment. You just have to play in the 30-second segments like Coach B tells you to and not let the pressure get to you because you can’t go back and change anything, you have to worry about the next play, the next save.”
Logan McGovern, who was named the most valuable player, finished with three goals and four assists. Pokorny also scored three times, while Brian Minicus, Henri Pfeifle and Jackson Peters added two goals apiece.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be playing and it’s just really awesome being a part of it all,” Collins said.
Shin scored three goals and Mac Deane added two for the Rams (14-5), who Brameier praised for bringing out the best in his players.
“Credit to O’Connell and Shin in particular and Crovatto on faceoffs,” Brameier said. “Those were the three kids that worried me the most. They’re going to get more possession time and we had all we could do to keep O’Connell under control, and we didn’t. Two games in a row he’s been a beast. If he’s not one of the top middies in the state I don’t know who is. That’s why it was a battle of one versus two and one versus two in the state. It’s two competitive teams.”
It will be surprising if there is not a Round 3 in the Class L semifinals in 12 days.
“I’m very proud of how we responded and never gave up,” Buzzeo said. “The difference between us and everybody else when they play Darien is we want to play them. Everybody else is fearful of them. We’re excited that we might have the opportunity to play them again and I think they feel the same way.”