East Lyme boys win fourth straight ECC lacrosse title
Stonington - A certain amount of pressure comes with trying to uphold a winning tradition.
Just ask East Lyme.
The top-seeded Vikings carried the weight of expectations on their shoulders heading into Friday's Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' lacrosse tournament championship game at Stonington High School.
They shrugged off the pressure and shook free from stubborn Ledyard, 10-6, to claim their fourth straight title.
"There was a lot of pressure," senior Mark Chmielewski said. "If we lost, then it looks bad on us. If we won, it's another one, so it's a key thing."
No one is more aware of the program's championship history than coach Gary Wight, but he prefers to focus on the present rather than the past.
"Every championship is special for us," Wight said. "That's all the matters to me. Everything in the past is fine and dandy but the most important thing is right now and that's what we focus on."
Chmielewski, who was named the most outstanding player, helped power a balanced attack, contributing two goals and an assist. Nic Page had two goals and two assists and Evan Opsahl added two goals.
For the second straight game, East Lyme dominated on both sides in the second half. The Vikings seized control in the third quarter, scoring three straight goals to build an 8-4 lead. They also increased their defensive pressure and goalie Greg Swenson made several sparkling saves to prevent a Ledyard comeback.
"We're a second half team," Wight said. "The guys played well. We just made some adjustments defensively. Our offense definitely feeds off our defense. … And we just started getting hot."
Second-seeded Ledyard did everything it could to try to prevent an organized and disciplined East Lyme from breaking away. Senior Alec Powell's third goal, which came with a man advantage, forged a 4-4 tie with about two minutes left in the second quarter.
But Chmielewski answered about a minute later to give the Vikings a 5-4 lead at halftime.
East Lyme delivered the thunder at the start of the third quarter, as Griffin Woods struck first in the first 48 seconds before Page set up Opsahl for two straight goals to push the lead to 8-4.
The Vikings created high percentage scoring chances with precise passing and backside cuts and also frustrated the Colonels with a smothering defense, limiting shot opportunities.
"We picked it up," Chmielewski said. "We saw they were slacking a little bit. We decided to put the ball in the back of the net more."
Ledyard knew it was in deep trouble. "They usually come out with a very strong third quarter," Ledyard coach Mark Farnsworth said. "We knew that we had to come out strong and really defend hard. We gave up one quick, which put the odds a little bit more against us. Then Swenson keeps them in the game. And the way they always maintain possession off of face-offs was huge."
East Lyme remained in control until the final whistle. In tournament wins over Bacon Academy and Ledyard, the Vikings outscored their opponents, 12-3, in the second half.
The Vikings (15-3) are looking forward to the state tournament.
"I feel very good," Wight said. "A couple of weeks ago, we started clicking as a team. Different guys are picking up different games. … We're just a well-balanced team."
The Colonels (13-5) also have more lacrosse to play. They felt good about their ECC consolation prize.
"It would have been nice to come here and win this today," Farnsworth said. "I'm very proud of them. They worked hard and they have nothing to be ashamed of."
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