Bears come up short in boys' lacrosse semis
Cheshire — Stonington is all too painfully familiar with this postseason storyline.
The Bears played in the CIAC Class S semifinals for the third time in four years on Wednesday.
Waiting for them was a Fairfield County boys' lacrosse powerhouse.
Top-seeded Stonington had no luck busting through a major roadblock in the form of No. 13 St. Joseph of Trumbull, losing 9-6, at Cheshire High School.
"We expected them to be good," Stonington coach Paul Deon said. "I know St. Joe's has won a state title before. We expected it to be a very tough game, and it was."
"... They're a good team, and we are, too. I'm really pleased with my guys."
The Bears, who never led and trailed 6-4 at halftime, also gained a measure of satisfaction by remaining within striking distance until late in the fourth quarter. The Cadets scored twice in the final five minutes to close out the win.
"Coming here and being in the final four is huge for us," senior Nick Balestracci said. "Since we kept it close, it soothes the pain a little bit. But it's still a tough loss."
The Cadets advanced to the championship for the fourth time in five years by dominating possession and using an aggressive, pressing style to bottle up the Bears (16-5).
Stonington had few transition scoring opportunities and only a handful of quality shots on goalie Mike Braddick. Sophomore Tyler Grills finished with three goals and senior Dan Riordan added two while Balestracci also scored for the Bears.
"We just played a bad possession game," Riordan said. "They had the ball for at least 75 percent of the game, so we couldn't really work on offense."
Only a superb defensive effort, including a stellar performance from senior goalie Gustaf Jungnelius (20 saves), prevented the Bears from losing by a larger margin.
"They did a phenomenal job, our defense and our goalie both did," Deon said.
Stonington played its best lacrosse in the third quarter, limiting St. Joseph to just one goal - junior Rick Giordano's strike from the right side that increased his team's lead to 7-5.
The Bears capitalized on a turnover early in the fourth quarter, as Grills scored from close range to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 9:45 left.
Jungnelius made a great save on Jeff Marcantonio to keep it a one-goal deficit.
But Giordano scored for the second time with five minutes remaining and Colin Powell added the final goal at the 2:03 mark to send the Cadets to the finals.
With the hard-fought loss, the Bears accomplished one mission: earn respect for the southeastern Connecticut program.
"That was really one of our biggest motivational points," Riordan said. "Our side of the state gets a bad rap for lacrosse teams and pretty much sports in general, so today we wanted to come out here and show them our side of the state plays lacrosse and plays well."
Now Deon wants his program to take the next step.
"It's exceptional and a testament to our program and the guys to make it to the semifinals...," Deon said. "I think at this point we're ready to move on."
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