Crosstown West Hartford rivals met in boys lacrosse Thursday evening, in a game full of intensity and excitement.
By Paul Palmer
When they write the history of the Hall/Conard boys lacrosse rivalry, Thursday’s game might just be the lead item.
The Titans, still fighting for a chance at a playoff spot, came into McKee Stadium and upset the Red Wolves 12-11 in a thrilling, back-and-forth contest. Grant Kanaga and Bode Smith led the Hall attack with three goals each. “The whole week in practice leading up to the game we’ve been going crazy,” said Smith.
“Crazy” is a great way to describe the opening 12 minutes of the game. Conard’s Luke Shaffer scored the first of his three goals in the game just 28 seconds in on a feed from CJ Nelson. That lead did not last long; in fact it was just 13 seconds later that Hudson Hollander scooped up a loose ball off the draw, raced down field, and fired in the first Titans’ goal.
It took Conard all of 7 seconds to retake the lead when Huy Doan won the draw, raced in on goal, and deposited a shot behind Hall goalie C.J. Cohen. Hall’s response came 33 seconds later when Tommy Finley found Kanaga for the first of his three tallies on the day and 55 seconds after that it was Conard’s Liam Alver making it 3-2 Red Wolves.
Shaffer netted his second of the period on another assist from Nelson, and Ben Halpert scored his first of the game at 5:19 to make it 5-2 Conard.
Kanaga and Smith worked some magic on the third Hall goal. Smith set a pick for Kanaga, and Kanaga spun back and found Smith alone in front and he scored. With 36 seconds to go in the opening 12:00, Smith converted a Connor Russell pass when he crashed the net from the far side and beat Brayden Mangini high. With :01 to play, Vince Sullivan gave the Titans the tying goal and it was 5-5 at the end of the first period.
“We always come out slow, but we knew today if we wanted to get the job done we had to come out fast,” said Smith, who is a junior.
“For some reason it takes us a little bit to get into gear,” said second-year head coach Jerimee Moses of his Hall squad. “The good news is once we get it in gear, it gets rollin’ a little bit.”
Conard (8-8) opened the second quarter with a tighter defense anchored by Mangini in the cage. He opened with a big save on Russell and then got some help from Seamus Tracy who came back to knock Smith off the ball as he closed in on goal. Then 3:30 into the quarter it was Kanaga breaking the tie when he sped around a Conard defender to create space on a dodge and scored.
Conard answered when Jules Capone raced up-field from his defender position and found Alver for a goal. But the Red Wolves went down a man and Kanaga and Smith teamed up for the go-ahead goal at 7:32. Fifty seconds later, Theo Kanelos raced forward on a pass from Will Hall and scored the game’s 14th goal to tie it again at 7.
With just under 5:00 to go, the teams exchanged turnovers and Shaffer scored for the third time with an assist from Halpern. With 49 seconds to play it was Halpert getting the final goal of the half and Conard took a 9-7 lead into the intermission.
“We started fast in all phases of the game and were really clicking,” said Conard head coach Matt Cersosimo. “We knew we were going to have runs and we knew they were going to have runs – it was just a matter of handling our runs appropriately and then handling their runs.”
Hall opened the third down a man for 8 seconds and Cohen was tested right away. He had a big stop right off the opening faceoff and then two more in the first few minutes to keep the Titans in it. Senior Ben Gerken rewarded Cohen’s play when he scored from Sullivan at 5:06.
Smith looked to get the goal back for Hall 90 seconds later with a spin move and shot, but Mangini was there for the save. Just like the end of the first period, it was Hall’s Vince Sullivan tying the game with under a minute to play in the third. He scored his second goal, with Kanaga getting the assist and things were knotted at 9 after three.
With the game on the line both sides came out strong in the final period. Mangini had a hand in the next goal when he found Capone with a clear to midfield. The defender turned on the jets and raced in on Cohen’s cage, scoring the go-ahead goal. Once again a goal for one team was quickly answered by the other. Down one with 9:54 to play, it was Smith scoring as he came racing in from the sidelines, took a feed, and fired in the games 20th goal.
The next two scores of the game were the strangest on a crazy day of lacrosse. With the game still tied, Mangini carried the ball up field but had it knocked away from his stick near midfield. Smith was Johnny-on-the-spot, picked up the ball and scored on a hop into the unprotected net. A little over a minute later it was Conard’s turn to score when Hall tried to play the ball into goalie Cohen, but it was picked off and Conard converted and it was 11-11 with 6:22 remaining.
As the clock ticked down, each side threw everything they had into trying to score the winner. Sophomore Tommy Finley would get the golden goal with 3:47 remaining when he side armed a shot past Mangini, and Hall led 12-11.
Conard had two late chances to tie things up again, but a pair of errant passes turned the ball over and Hall managed to run out the clock, setting off a wild celebration near the Titans’ net. “It doesn’t get any better than that,” Moses said after the win. “It feels like somebody wrote a script and I’m loving the script they wrote.” The win moves Hall to 6-9 on the year with only one game to play – an away game at Fitch on Saturday.
It was clear after the final buzzer just how much this game meant to both sides. As Hall celebrated and took pictures at one end of the field, Conard players gathered together with heads bowed. It was not just a win for one side and a loss for the other, it was a win over your crosstown rival, and a bitter loss to your crosstown rival.
“Hall wears blue and Conard wears red and that just about sums it up,” said Cersosimo, quoting a former coach on the rivalry. “There’s no special game plans or anything like that. Everyone grows up playing against each other. It’s just one team has a different color on and you go to battle on the lacrosse field.”
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The Hall Titans “attack” player named Vince #9 is Vince Sullivan.
Great reporting! Reading this one feels like you are actually watching the game!