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Stonington - It was only the first quarter Saturday afternoon and Valley Regional coach Paul Ferrucci, his team trailing by three, was imploring his team to slow the game down against Stonington.
Catching Stonington to slow them down was another matter. No sooner had the coach spoken than Zach Poirier scored again for the Bears, just 20 seconds after their previous goal.
The top-seed in the CIAC Class S state boys' lacrosse tournament, Stonington went on to beat No. 9 Valley 16-6 to reach the semifinals for the third time in four years.
The Bears will play No. 13 St. Joseph of Trumbull at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Cheshire, bidding for their first title appearance.
"Two more steps," said senior all-state midfielder Dan Riordan with a smile, when it was inferred the Bears would like to take that one last step to play in the finals. "We're not losing this year.
"… They definitely were a great team, they were out there hustling 100 percent. We just got on our horse and kept going."
Riordan and sophomore Tyler Grills scored four goals each and Poirier added two goals and three assists for the Bears (16-4), who took a 7-3 lead with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter on Poirier's first goal.
They held a 10-5 lead at halftime and allowed only one late goal in the second half, getting several convincing saves from goalie Gustaf Jungenelius (11 saves overall).
Nick Balestracci and Jack Riordan added two goals each and Aaron Williams and Jack Dipollino each had one. Freshman Will Iorio finished with three assists.
In the Bears' man-to-man defense, Mitchell Kezer was charged with keeping an eye on Valley scoring threat Ben Ferrucci, who took the game's first shot, a bouncer in front of Jungnelius that just missed. Ferrucci scored early, pulling Valley within 4-3 of the Bears, and once more before halftime, but was held scoreless in the second half.
"The midfield did exceptionally moving the ball up and down the field," Stonington coach Paul Deon said. "Their goalie's very good and we knew that No. 5 (Ferrucci) and No. 2 (Tazer Landow) were good scorers … we just happened to be clicking."
The Bears scored six straight goals to start the second half, including one by Jack Riordan with 4:55 to play in the third quarter when he bulldozed his way through the Valley defense and sidearmed a shot past goalie Andrew Ferrucci, causing a ripple of excitement amongst his teammates.
"That was amazing," said Dan Riordan, who noted the team's camaraderie as a factor in its success.
After the game Riordan took a running leap and jumped on the back of former teammate Avery Dodd, who was on his way to congratulate the Bears.
"This is the first team I've been on that there's no drama," Riordan said of the Bears' penchant to share the ball. "Nobody's got it out for anybody else. Anybody might have a better opportunity (to score) than you and there's not one person that won't give them the ball."
"I've got about 10 alumni from years past that are mingling with our guys right now," Deon said. "It is what it is. It's always been a tight bunch."
Stonington captured the Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division championship this year and reached the finals of the ECC tournament before falling to East Lyme 15-9. Stonington beat East Lyme earlier in the season.
The Bears bounced back with a first-round Class S win over Old Lyme, 14-2, before Saturday's quarterfinal victory.
"The East Lyme game was definitely a wakeup call," Dan Riordan said. "That pushed us. The way they came out and beat us, it was like, 'We just lost ECC.' We couldn't slack off anymore if we wanted to do well in the tournament."