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Stonington — It was a matter of survival for Ledyard on Wednesday night.
The Colonels survived a stiff challenge from Fitch in the Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' lacrosse semifinals.
Senior Nick Lauer survived being mobbed by his jubilant teammates after scoring the game-winning goal just 24 seconds into overtime for a dramatic 8-7 victory.
"I could not breathe," Lauer said. "Anything for the win."
It took a tremendous effort for the second-seeded Colonels to battle back from a 7-3 deficit in the third quarter and reach the ECC Championship game for the first time since 2010.
Ledyard (13-4) will play top-seeded East Lyme (14-3) for the title Friday at Stonington (5 p.m.). East Lyme, the three-time defending champion, beat Bacon Academy in the opener, 13-6.
"Fitch did a great job and had a great game plan," Ledyard coach Mark Farnsworth said. "They really controlled the offensive momentum. We were lucky enough to survive until the end to get a chance to win it."
Ledyard outscored fourth-seeded Fitch, 3-0, in the final quarter.
The momentum began to shift in the Colonels' favor when senior Jake Christenson scored in a man-up situation with 11:19 remaining. Fitch was called for an illegal stick, leading to a three-minute penalty.
"We got a little momentum going and it really helped us," Farnsworth said.
Senior Nick LoBianco scored two goals only two minutes, 12 seconds apart to tie the score with 6:27 remaining and force overtime. He had three goals overall while Lauer and senior Alec Powell each added two.
Lauer finished off the comeback in overtime. He shook off a defender, ran into the clear and fired in the game-winning goal from about 10 yards out to ignite a celebration.
"I ran, spun, created some space to shoot and shot it," Lauer said. "It was amazing. I have to thank my teammates for it."
Senior Grayson Reuling scored three straight goals to hand Fitch a 7-3 lead with about six minutes left in the third quarter. But the Falcons (9-7) couldn't hold on.
In the first semifinal, East Lyme overcame a sluggish start, scoring seven straight goals in the second half to roll to a comfortable win. Erik Aarsand helped energize his teammates, scoring a game-high five goals.
"I was a little sluggish in the beginning," Aarsand said. "It took me awhile to wake up because I fell asleep on the bus on the ride over. But I guess I woke up and started to pull it together."
A better start will likely be needed for East Lyme to defend its title on Friday. The Vikes led 6-5 at halftime.
"Bacon definitely was up for the game," East Lyme coach Gary Wight said. "We just came out flat. They played great defense and they didn't give up. We turned some things around defensively in the second half and the offense picked up."
East Lyme seized control in the third quarter, scoring three goals in the first two minutes, 41 seconds. Nic Page set up Mark Chmielewski to start the outburst. Then Aarsand scored two goals just 33 seconds apart for a 9-5 lead.
"He's definitely a quality player," Wight said of Aarsand. "He's an asset for us. It makes us a little more dangerous having a bunch of guys who can (score)."
Wight also praised the play of his midfielders and defense, which was anchored by goalie Greg Swenson. The Vikings allowed only one goal in the second half and that came late in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings beat Ledyard on May 17 (8-4) in the only meeting between the two.
"East Lyme is going to be a challenge for us," Farnsworth said. "We played them really tough for a half last time and, as they did with Bacon tonight, they put on a great second half. … We're going to have to play a perfect game."