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Stonington - In the words of Stonington High School boys' lacrosse coach Bob Iorio, this was one game that wasn't going to come down to which team had more passion or heart.
Those characteristics were palpable on both sides, as the Bears fought Ledyard on Thursday night with first place in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Small Division on the line. The momentum shifts, the hard hits and the acrobatic goalie saves all spoke to that.
"It came down to execution," Iorio said.
In that department, Ledyard had the last say.
With the game tied 9-9 with 9 minutes, 17 seconds to play, Ledyard scored the final three goals for a 12-9 victory and the Small Division title.
Stonington, which needed a win to tie Ledyard for first place, had won the last three division championships and 25 straight Small Division games entering this season, but had holes to fill following the graduation of three all-state players.
"We were definitely pumped up. We're getting an ECC banner. It feels awesome," said Ledyard junior Ian Foster, who finished with three goals. "They swept on us last year. Last year, losing both games, we definitely come out (against them) with a chip on our shoulder."
Nick LoBianco also scored three goals for Ledyard (12-4, 8-0), while Alec Powell and Nick Lauer scored two each and goalie Paul Bossardet made 15 saves.
The Colonels held four-goal leads on two different occasions, once to start each half, only to watch them dissipate. As Ledyard began to force things, the Colonels watched Stonington control play and score in bunches.
Stonington came back from an 8-4 deficit, caused by playing a man down due at the start of the half due to a penalty, to tie things 8-8 on a goal by Zach Poirier from Will Iorio with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
With the score tied one final time at nine, Ledyard coach Mark Farnsworth called a timeout with 7:58 to play to remind his team to be more deliberate and to relax a little.
A Ledyard shot by LoBianco with four and a half minutes remaining was one of 14 saves by Bears goalie Cole Curtis, however Stonington turned the ball over shortly thereafter - one of the execution errors to which Iorio alluded - and the Colonels finally broke through in the low-scoring quarter.
Jake Christenson scored on an assist from Lauer at the 4:00 mark, followed by a goal from Powell, falling away from the goal but with a favorable angle, just 12-seconds later for an 11-9 advantage.
LoBianco closed the scoring with 2:37 to play, breaking away for a one-on-one against the goalie.
"They're two very proud teams," Farnsworth said. "Stonington's got that culture of winning. For a long time, we've been trying to build a culture where success is expected. We always have talked about a banner, that culture of believing. They continued to fight. Tonight, they never gave up."
Jack Riordan and Tyler Grills scored three goals each for Stonington (9-7, 6-2) and Poirier had two. Stonington lost to Ledyard in the teams' first meeting, 9-5 on April 29.
Ledyard scored three straight goals to start the game Thursday, two by Foster, and led 5-1 before Stonington narrowed the margin to 5-4 at halftime, the first of two significant rallies.
"We dug ourself a hole, dug ourself a hole," Iorio said. "It's hard to push the whole team uphill the whole game, but we did, we did. I can't give enough compliments to the guys for that."