NEW CANAAN — As the New Canaan girls lacrosse team navigated the regular season with a young roster comprised of few seniors, coach Kristin Woods stressed situational play.
As many of the Rams played their first postseason game this afternoon, that diligence to detail paid off.
After seventh-seeded Fairfield Warde rallied with four straight goals in the second half, New Canaan was able to maintain possession to run out the final minutes and come away with a hard-fought 10-9 win in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC Tournament.
“The last couple of weeks we’ve really been practicing that,” said Campbell Armstrong, one of the few Rams with playoff experience, who finished with 2 goals and 1 assist. “When we are up by one, what do we do with five minutes left, if we are down by two, what do we do with 10 minutes left. I think it paid off because we were successful.”
No. 2 New Canaan (13-4), whose only in-state loss was in double-overtime to Darien, a team it would love to earn another shot at, will play sixth-seeded Ridgefield in Monday’s semifinals. The Tigers defeated Greenwich in double overtime, 15-14.
Woods played the odds with her late-game strategy, even though she said it goes against the makeup of her team.
“I’ve always wondered about slowing the ball with this team because they like to push it, push it, push it,” Woods said. “We’re learning, we’re getting there but they did a good job of staying composed at the end of the game. I’m proud of what they did today and we’ll move on from here.”
New Canaan seemed on the verge of breaking the game open on several occasions, only to have the Mustangs (12-5), who reached the Class L championship game a year ago, rally.
The Rams took a 4-1 lead 6 1/2 minutes in, but Libby McKenna scored twice to draw Warde within 5-4.
Armstrong answered with her second goal 32 seconds later, igniting a four-goal run that gave New Canaan a 9-4 lead with 19:29 left. After an exchange of scores — Braeden Dial made a beautiful pass in front that the Rams’ Julia Ozimek finished — McKenna again scored consecutive goals. Courtney Scheetz and Olivia Seymour added scores 43 seconds apart to get within 10-9.
But the Mustangs never got a chance to tie the game.
“It was important to stay composed and calm,” Armstrong said. “We all know how to pass and catch. It should be routine now.”
Gianna Bruno finished with 2 goals and 2 assists for New Canaan, while Karlie Bucci added 2 goals. Dial, doing a great job playmaking, had 1 goal and 3 assists.
“In the second half our shooting just wasn’t as strong as it had been, and at that point we were up so work the ball around and before you knew it there were only two minutes left and balls are more important than goals,” Woods said.
McKenna was outstanding, with 3 goals and 4 assists, while Seymour finished with 3 goals and 1 assist.
New Canaan got a strong defensive effort, led by Ozimek and Caroline Schuh.
“The defense I thought was great,” Woods said. “Julia is a rock star. She is my workhorse and I love that kid. She is hard working, diligent and UConn is very lucky to have her coming.”
Armstrong said the Rams just need to maintain consistency to have postseason success.
“We had a run at the beginning, they had a run, we came back and we had momentum for most of the game,” Armstrong said. “I think that was the most important thing. We can’t let those runs happen.”
Yesterday’s results were further proof of how the number of contenders is expanding beyond the familiar powers.
“The FCIAC this year has so much depth,” Woods said.