WILTON — New Canaan boys lacrosse coach Chip Buzzeo is counting on depth — quality depth — as being a determining factor this season.
“The one thing you will see this year is we play more players than anyone in the state,” Buzzeo said. “We play 28 guys, and when the opposing team is playing 15 or 16, they’re going to be tired in the fourth quarter. We have legs in the fourth quarter.”
There were probably other factors at play in the Rams’ dramatic 11-10 come-from-behind win over Wilton today that is the early leader in the clubhouse for best game of the season. But having numbers certainly was an asset.
Trailing 8-4 at the half, New Canaan (3-0) scored four straight times to tie the game, then overcame a 10-8 deficit with a run of three successive goals to come away with the victory. Liam Griffiths provided the game-winner with 1:59 remaining.
The Rams never led until that point.
“Crazy one right?” New Canaan’s Quintin O’Connell said with a smile afterward. “We started off slow. We didn’t play the game we knew we could play in the first half. Stupid mistakes. Turning the ball over, dumb penalties. At halftime it was we were down four goals, one at a time.”
True to Buzzeo’s point, seven different Rams scored, paced by two goals apiece from O’Connell, Griffiths and Mac Deane. Perhaps the biggest reason for the comeback was Nick Crovatto’s work on faceoffs and the Rams’ ability to dominate time of possession after the break, holding Wilton (2-1) to just a pair of goals.
“We have three amazing faceoff guys but Nick Crovatto is probably the best there is in the state,” Buzzeo said. “We wore them down. We’ve probably conditioned harder than we ever have in the offseason. If it’s close in the fourth quarter we’re pretty confident.”
The way the Warriors lost was most painful, but they did nothing to dim the outlook for the season, especially after their first-half effort.
“You’re up, you have a good lead,” Wilton coach John Wiseman said. “We count the game by quarters, we won two, they won two. They won the two that mattered unfortunately. I would have liked to play four quarters the way we played the first two, but you play a good team and they challenge you.”
Brian Calabrese led Wilton with four goals and an assist. Dean DiNanno added two goals, while goaltender Andrew Calabrese made 15 saves.
“I have been challenging the kids to have their execution match their effort and I think we still need to get there,” Wiseman said. “Our execution was high in parts of the game but in some critical moments toward the end our execution didn’t match the effort. I thought our kids played a tremendous game.”
Four different players scored in the third quarter to get New Canaan to an 8-8 tie, but Joe Murtha’s goal with 32 seconds remaining put Wilton back in the lead.
Gaston Acosta-Rua extended the Warriors advantage 26 seconds into the final quarter, but Griffiths answered a half minute later.
Teddy Manges tied the game for the Rams with 5:39 left and then the continuing chess match was finally settled on a quick finish by Griffiths off a nice pass from Owen Shin.
“We were beating ourselves,” Buzzeo said about the slow start. “Wilton is a great team and we kept on turning the ball over, we shouldn’t have, we were sloppy at times, we were taking forced shots, we weren’t really moving on offense, we were trying to do everything one on one and that’s not the team we are. We are a team that generates goals off team offense and that’s what our message was at halftime. It was a huge win for the guys.”
The Rams have found internal motivation by what they perceive as lower expectations from those who saw the talent that graduated.
“Everyone talks about who we lost but no one talks about who came back,” Buzzeo said. “We got a lot of guys back. They are inexperienced so to speak but they are good lacrosse players. They’re great athletes. I think we will be a 10 times better come May than we are now.”
Today’s outcome was certainly a positive building block.
“The way we won shows grit and that was the team’s mentality the whole offseason,” O’Connell said. “This team, we don’t have as many of the stars and have that chip on our shoulder and feel we can be this New Canaan team that no one expects us to be.”