NORWALK >> For the third straight season, Hand and New Canaan advanced to the Class M final and both teams had added incentive to come away with a title on Saturday.
The Tigers lost the last two seasons to the Rams in the final and were yearning to get their first state title, especially against the team that beat them in the finals. New Canaan wanted to get that third straight title.
Ryan O’Connell had three goals and an assist and Richard Magnus added two goals to lead No. 4 New Canaan to a 9-6 win over No. 11 Hand for the Rams’ sixth state title overall.
Both goalies put on a clinic with Hand’s Griffin Fitzmaurice making 11 saves, including six close-range saves that kept the Tigers in the game.
New Canaan goalie Drew Morris had nine saves including two on blazing shots from Hand’s Nate Palumbo and two on blazing shots from Liam Gottlick.
“Hand made us work hard for every goal today,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “They dominated face-offs, their defense was tough and their goalie made some big saves. Scoring the first two goals of the game was big.
“Everybody talks about how strong FCIAC lacrosse is, but Connecticut lacrosse is improving every year and Hand is an example how good so many teams are outside the FCIAC. This title was satisfying, but to be honest, any time you win a championship it’s satisfying.”
New Canaan ended the season 15-4. Hand fell to 14-8.
“It’s absolutely disappointing to be here a third time and not get a title. It’s devastating,” Hand coach Paul Deon said. “We executed our game plan and when we fell behind I knew our guys had it in them to come back. Their goalie made some great saves, but this game could have gone either way.
“Everything came together for us this season, our offense, midfield and defense. But our goalie (Fitzmaurice) was our rock, our backbone all season.”
In the first quarter, Ryan O’Connell scored with 3:58 to go and brother Quintin O’Connell scored with 2:17 to go to give New Canaan a 2-0 lead.
Hand rebounded to tie the game at 2. Tommy Swank answered with a goal to cut the lead to 2-1 with 1:47 to go in the first quarter and Palumbo tied the game at 2 with 42 seconds left.
O’Connell responded by scoring the first two goals of the second quarter. O’Connell goals 33 seconds into the quarter and another with 9:03 to go gave the Rams a 4-2 lead.
Hand kept the pressure on Drew Morris, and Palumbo unleashed a blazing shot from about 10 yards out to cut the lead to 4-3 with 4:11 to go.
Meanwhile, Fitzmaurice was keeping the Tigers in the game with four close-range saves.
In the third quarter, both goalies came up with key saves, but Richard Magnus would add a pair of goals for the Rams. Magnus picked up a ground ball in front of the net and scored for a 5-3 lead with 8:10 to go and scored with 12 seconds left for a 6-3 lead.
But with 1 second left in the third quarter, Hand’s Tanner Garitta sent the Tigers fans to their feet, scoring off a blazing shot to cut the lead to 6-4.
The Tigers made the game interesting in the fourth quarter when Gottlick scored a pair of goals, including one with 8:04 to go to tie the game at 6.
“I was freaking out when they tied the 6-6,” Ryan O’Connell said. “At that point it was anyone’s game. But we knew we would bounce back. This was really a fun game.”
Three unanswered goals by the Rams would put the game away.
Graham Braden scored with 6:39 to go, Jack Hoelzer added a goal with 3:28 left and Jackson Appelt made it 9-6 with 2:28 to go for the final.
New Canaan 9, Hand 6
Hand 2 1 1 2 – 6
New Canaan 2 2 2 3 – 9
Goals: (HD) Liam Gottlick 2; Nate Palumbo 2; Tanner Garitta 1; Tom Swank 1; (NCA) Ryan O’Connell 3; Richard Magnus 2; Graham Braden 1; Jack Hoelzer 1; Quintin O’Connell 1; Jackson Appelt 1; Assists: (HD) Tom Swank 2; Teg Cosgriff 1; Nate Palumbo 1; (NCA) Jackson Appelt 1; Ryan O’Connell 1; Saves: (HD) Griffin Fitzmaurice 11; (NCA) Drew Morris 9; Shots- HD: 25; NCA: 33;
Team records- New Canaan 15-4; Hand 14-8.