As far as the simple act of passing and catching goes, the Wilton boys lacrosse team was far from at its best during Friday afternoon’s showdown against Fairfield Prep.
The fact that the Warriors were able to overcome it to post a convincing 13-6 victory over a team that had not lost a game against state competition proves just how tough Wilton is going to be come playoff time.
Wilton (9-3) received a stellar offensive performance from senior attackman Chris Nugent, who scored three of his game-high five goals in succession in the first period to give the Warriors a 4-1 lead.
Wilton never trailed after that, taking a 7-2 lead into halftime and an 8-4 edge going into the fourth in a battle between two of the state's top-ranked teams at Alumni Field.
Junior goalkeeper Connor Johnson (10 saves) stood strong when called upon to make the tough stops, senior Ted Ottens helped the Warriors control the flow of the game by winning 17 of the game’s 23 faceoffs and the defense, led by Matt Basile and Rob Keers, helped contain a typically powerful Fairfield Prep offense with solid play in front of the cage.
Wilton had already proven its toughness in close losses against Darien (10-8) and Ridgefield (15-14), its only two in-state setbacks. By beating a tough non-confrerence opponent like Prep, which knocked off powerful Chaminade of New York 11-10 last week, the Warriors feel like they have the feather in the cap they needed.
“This was a big game for us because we knew they were coming off a big win against Chaminade,” said Nugent, who went home with a huge welt on his wrist after taking a hit under his padding. “We were motivated because we really didn’t have a signature win. We really want to peak now, especially with the playoffs coming up. This was a big signature win that should get us motivated for the playoffs.”
Fairfield Prep (11-2), which outshot Wilton 34-28 while winning the battle of ground balls by a margin of 39-29, must now go back to the drawing board after failing to do all the things it did well during its groundbreaking win against Chaminade.
“A week ago we thought we won a pretty important game for our program beating one of the top programs in the country,” said Fairfield Prep head coach Chris Smalkais, whose team also lost to Delbarton of New Jersey 14-2 on April 28. “We have to be able to meet that challenge on a day-to-day basis, and we did not do that today. We need to find a level of consistency to our game because we took a step back today.”
Fairfield Prep had a chance to do some damage early with an opening possession that lasted almost five minutes, but the Jesuits managed just one goal during the stretch.
“We had lots of scoring chances, our passing was poor today,” Smalkais said. “The goalie made some dynamic saves, but we made this game much easier for (Wilton) to play and much harder for us.”
After Connor Devane (two goals) scored to tie it 1-1 with 4:50 left, Nugent turned the game in Wilton’s favor for good with three straight goals over a span of 1:29. Mike Slaughter (one goal, three assists) set up the first, Ottens (one goal) assisted on the second and Nugent beat Prep goalie Mike Seelye (eight saves) while being hit to the ground on the third.
“I had a few good opportunities,” Nugent said. “Most of them were just great looks by the other guys. I got open and they found me.”
Prep pulled to within 4-2 with a late goal in the first period, but Wilton’s defense shut the Jesuits down in the second and the Warriors scored three times to take a 7-2 halftime lead.
“Our defense was AWOL the past few games and they came back strong,” Wilton head coach John Wiseman said. “Connor Johnson had a great day, so I think as a team we did a great job.”
Prep climbed back into the game again in the third quarter with two unanswered goals by Dillon Ryan and Kevin Brown (two goals, two assists) to make it 7-4 with 6:37 left. But Devane gave Wilton its four-goal advantage back with 5:47 left and the Warriors outscored the Jesuits 5-2 in the fourth quarter.
“I think if we continue to play like this, we can beat anyone,” Nugent said. “We have to continue to get better. We can’t look at this win and think we’re the team to beat now because that’s not the case.”
Wilton’s attack unit of Nugent, Matt Kobyra (one goal, three assists) and Cole Rance (two goals, two assists) made the most of their scoring chances, making quick decisions with the ball while showing the toughness to bury their shots while getting knocked down with hits.
“I think we have a really solid attack unit,” Wiseman said. “People talk about individual players, but I think as an offense and an attack unit, we have one of the best. Those three guys played great.”
None of it would have been possible without the play of Ottens, who won all seven faceoffs in the first quarter and 10 of 11 in the first half.
“Teddy’s an animal,” Wiseman said. “He’s definitely one of the top faceoff guys in the state. You can talk to (Mike Quick of MSG) and he might tell you he’s the best in the tri-state. I think he’s a damn-good faceoff guy.”