The top-seeded Ridgefield Tigers were jolted from the FCIAC boys lacrosse semifinals on Tuesday night at Brien McMahon in Norwalk after colliding with the Wall of Waesche — namely Greenwich goaltender Will Waesche, who chest-bumped a point-blank shot in the final seconds to preserve a 6-5 lead and earn the fourth-seeded Cardinals a trip to the FCIAC championship game.
It was Waesche’s most important save of the night, yet not his most impressive. Earlier in the first half, he blocked two shots with his feet. In a tight one-goal game with four different lead changes, Waesche’s goaltending was the difference maker.
“I told him when I shook hands with him, ‘Man, your legs looked a lot fatter when you were out there in goal than they do right now.’ That kid was amazing. He was amazing,” said Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey.
The Tigers (15-3) played gritty until the end, and almost managed to overcome the spectacular efforts of Waesche and Graham Savio, who won nearly every single face-off for his team.
“I think we lost every face-off, and their goalie stood on his head, and those two things combined really made it very tough on us to win the game,” said Colsey.
In the final 90 seconds, the Tigers’ defense did what it did all night: Manufacture possessions. With a Greenwich attackman loitering behind Ridgefield’s goal, trying to ride out the clock, Ridgefield’s Sam Gravitte forced him out of bounds to get his team the ball.
And with 30 seconds left, Ridgefield forced a turnover at the midfield line to gain one final possession.
But in the final 25 seconds, an impenetrable Greenwich defense forced Tim Cozens and Ryan Dunn to take long-distance shots. And then when Brett Baker finally managed to push through the crease, he came up against Waesche, who denied the point-blank shot.
“Certainly I’m happy with the shots that we generated late to try to force it to an over-time,” said Colsey. “But the bottom line is my defense did a great job, and we had to play a ton of defense.”
It was clear early on that the game would be closer than the Tigers’ 10-5 victory over the Cardinals to start the season, a game in which the Tigers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and were in control the entire contest.
Less than two minutes into the game, Greenwich’s Kyle Foote scored with a long-distance side-arm shot from outside the crease. It was the first of two goals for Foote on the night, as he’d ultimately tie the game in the fourth. And the opening face-off win by Savio that earned the Cardinals that initial possession … well, that would be a recurring theme.
“We were definitely missing (injured midfielder Will) Bonaparte tonight,” said Colsey. “He’s our number one face-off guy. He got a wacky injury at practice yesterday, where he just couldn’t go today. The kid Savio is good — just a tremendous face-off guy. So they had more possessions than we did at the end of the day.”
The Tigers answered back two minutes later when Simon Mathias, who led Ridgefield with two goals and an assist, darted from behind the net and ran alongside the crease, before spinning and firing a shot past Waesche. Mathias struck again in the second quarter, getting an assist from Cal Dearth, to make it 2-1 Ridgefield.
But the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead with three straight goals: Two by Alex Moeser, who had two on the night, and another by Luke Finneran, who also finished with two goals.
“In the first game of the season, they set up a zone defense against us, and we didn’t know how to break it; we weren’t patient,” said Waesche. “We really didn’t have the patience back then to play against a zone defense as opposed to a man-to-man. But we’ve been practicing going against every defense out there and, you know, practice is key.”
The back-and-forth nature of the game continued as the Tigers responded with three goals of their own. In the third quarter, Mathias found Dan Ohrem, who scored, and then Dearth uncorked an impressive long-distance shot from way outside the crease to tie it at 4-4.
With 30 seconds remaining in the quarter, Cozens intercepted a pass near the midfield line to give Ridgefield possession. Then, on a play reminiscent of the final play of the game, Baker stepped into the crease with five seconds on the clock and fired a shot past Waesche to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead.
But the Tigers just couldn’t make it hold up. Foote tied the game with 8:40 on the clock in the fourth. And then a wild series of turnovers and possession changes ended when Finneran snuck a shot past Ridgefield goalie Conor Shannon to score the game-winner.
“We just kept grinding, doing what we do,” said Foote. “Getting the ball up the field, running transition, and sometimes the ball doesn’t roll our way, and it happened a couple times and we did a good job recovering.”
In the closing minutes the Tigers were able to get possession, but just couldn’t score.
“It was a great lacrosse game,” said Colsey. “And it’s so much easier to say that when you win than when you lose, but at the end of the day it was a great high school game and we came up short.
“But I give Greenwich all the credit in the world. They had a nice game plan, the kids made plays all game long when they had to, and we’ve just got to move on to states,” added Colsey. “We’re disappointed and we’ll just try to refocus our efforts and do the best we can to come out and compete for a state title.”