Weston knocks off previously unbeaten East Lyme in Class M boys' lax semifinal
East Lyme — No one had been able to slow down the East Lyme boys' lacrosse team offense, which rolled through the Eastern Connecticut Conference this season, much like it does most every spring.
The top-seeded Vikings finally ran into a defense that they struggled to crack on Wednesday. They fell behind No. 4 Weston early in their CIAC Class M semifinal and couldn't catch up in 14-8 loss, their first defeat of the season.
It was the first time that East Lyme scored in the single digits. Its previous low was an 11-8 win over Notre Dame of West Haven in the first round.
"Notre Dame, they were a tough defense," Vikings senior Matt Valakos said. "They pressed out well. They played tough man (defense) and then we saw Avon (in the quarterfinals) with another similar defense. They played really well.
"(Weston) must have watched a lot of film on us because they game-planned pretty well on our attackmen and middies. Obviously, those guys, they're a great defense. Props to them."
East Lyme finished the season 16-1 and won its 10th straight ECC tournament title.
The Vikings trailed Weston 5-2 after one quarter and 11-6 after three.
"It's just better competition," Vikings head coach Gary Wight said. "That's playoffs. That's tourney ball. It's just hard to replicate in practice when you don't see it. I'm proud of the guys. (It's) frustrating obviously. They kept on battling. (Weston) played good defense on us."
The Trojans (16-4) will play No. 6 Hand in Saturday's final at Trumbull. Hand routed Masuk on Tuesday, 14-3. Masuk, like Weston, plays in the South-West Conference.
It’s the second straight season the Trojans have made a final. They lost in the 2019 Class M championship game, and last year's CIAC spring season was canceled due to the pandemic.
Junior Renzo Garone scored six times for Weston and senior goalie Andrew Albert had 13 saves.
Valakos had three goals and an assist and senior Ryan Whaley had two goals and two assists for the Vikings, who sought to reach their second state final (they won the 2004 Division II title). Senior Wes Williamson and junior David Stoddard also scored.
Valakos scored on a feed from Whaley 52 seconds into the game. It would be East Lyme's only lead with the Trojans scoring the final three goals of the first quarter.
Valakos scored twice in the final four minutes of the half to cut the Vikings' deficit to 7-5.
Weston pulled away in the third quarter as it shut out East Lyme. Senior Dane Buffardi scored twice in that period and assisted on a goal by sophomore Sean Esslinger that pushed the Trojans lead to 11-5.
"They worked the ball pretty well (on offense)," Valakos said. "They move around. They dodge. I think it just comes down to how our defense slides. I think we were just a few steps too late; a few steps out of position. ... I think that just made the difference."
The Vikings have high standards and expect to win every season, but there was some uncertainly this season after losing last season to the pandemic. They ended up being the first team since 2009 to make it to a CIAC semifinal.
"I wasn't sure what kind of team we were going to have to be honest," Valakos said. "I knew we had a great group of seniors, but we didn't play together sophomore year. Some of us played up on varsity, some of us played down on JV. I didn't think (the chemistry) was going to be there. As the season progressed the chemistry just built. We worked as one. We just knew where everyone was going to be.
"It was a great team. I didn't think we were going to go this far and here we are in the state semis. Like I said, we literally worked together all season and it showed, and it got us this far."