Conard inches closer to a home game in the qualifying round of the state tournament after an upset of Hall on Senior Night to conclude the regular season.
By Marlon Pitter. Photos by Andy Stabnick, lowtidephotography.com
When the Conard High School boys lacrosse team needed a win over crosstown rival Hall on Thursday night for more than just town pride, Derek O’Connor delivered.
The junior attacker scored four goals, including the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining, to lift the Chieftains to a 7-6 victory over the Warriors on Senior Night.
“I’m just so happy for the kids,” said Conard head coach Matt Cersosimo. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s really how I feel in my heart. These kids work hard day in and day out, and then for them to finish the season on a great note is really what makes me happy.”
With overtime looming, O’Connor received a pass from Aidan Stabnick and found the back of the net to break a 6-6 tie forced by Hall just 20 seconds earlier.
Hall won the ensuing faceoff and Conard was penalized with 2.8 seconds remaining, but the Warriors were unable to generate a shot on net in the final seconds to send the game to overtime.
Grant O’Connor (goal, two assists), Gabriel Suarez (two goals), and Ben Hollerbach (two assists) registered multiple points for Conard along with Derek O’Connor in the winning effort.
The Warriors battled back from a three-goal deficit, entering the fourth quarter down 5-2.
Barrett Kanaga scored with 6:21 remaining to narrow the margin to two, and Aidan Guzman added another goal for Hall 12 seconds later, quickly making it a 5-4 game.
Grant O’Connor pushed the Chieftains’ advantage back to two, 6-4, with 5:07 to play, but Griffin Smith helped the Warriors capitalize on a slashing penalty with 2:55 remaining. Mike DiPietro followed with a short-lived game-tying goal for Hall at the 40-second mark.
Smith opened the scoring for the Warriors at the 9:13 mark in the first quarter, but Derek O’Connor answered for the Chieftains four minutes later, tying the game at 1-1.
Derek O’Connor gave Conard the lead with 18 seconds remaining off a defensive zone turnover by Hall, and the Chieftains took a 2-1 advantage after one.
The Chieftains capitalized on Hall penalties in the second quarter, scoring twice on the man advantage to take a 4-1 lead into halftime. Suarez scored at the 10:26 mark, while Derek O’Connor completed his hat trick with 2:20 left in the half.
The Warriors took advantage of a penalty on Conard netminder Ramsey Henderson, scoring on backup KJ Shaziel with 3:52 in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 4-2. Suarez responded for the Chieftains two minutes later, however, upping the margin to three heading into the final frame.
Conard entered the evening slated 19th in the CIAC Class L rankings with a 7-7 record – already a lock for the state tournament – and trying to move up and earn a home game the qualifying round on either May 25 or 26. As the Chieftains finish the regular season 8-7, Cersosimo and the team will have to wait to find out who – and where – they’ll play next.
The Warriors finish the regular season 12-3 and will have nearly two weeks off, as their tournament game is slated for Wednesday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m.
Hall coach Ben von Mayrhauser said his team is battle-tested and ready for postseason play despite the loss.
“This team has heart,” said von Mayrhauser. “We’ve had a few comebacks this year, so we believe we can get back into any game, and we fight to the last whistle. I’m proud to be the coach of this team. We just didn’t get the outcome we wanted today. That’s sports and that’s life.”
While the Warriors’ next opponent is unknown for more than a week, the focus until then, von Mayrhauser said, will be on preparation and self-improvement.
“We’ve gotta work on our own game for two weeks,” he said. “We’ve gotta tighten up any loose screws, figure out who we’re gonna match up against and prepare for them, and we’ll keep the guys in condition, keep them playing – two weeks is a long time – and just get ready to go.”
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