TRUMBULL — His team won its third straight CIAC Class S boys lacrosse championship Saturday morning at McDougall Stadium, and Brendan Talbot was dreading leaving to head back across town to St. Joseph.
“It’s going to be a sad bus ride back,” Cadets coach Talbot said after a 13-9 win over East Catholic, “knowing that it’s the last time they’re going to get off the bus.”
This senior class never lost a playoff game. It won the 2018 and 2019 Class S titles. And Talbot said the 2020 team that lost its season to the COVID-19 pandemic might’ve been the best of the four.
St. Joseph (12-8) became the first boys lacrosse team to win a CIAC championship with a losing regular-season record. The Cadets were 7-8 before winning five playoff games, including a classic 8-7 win over top-seeded New Fairfield in the first round. The only other 17th seed to win a championship was Wilton in Class M in 2013.
“We had a few heartbreakers, a few we only lost by a couple that if we went back, we wish we could’ve pulled out,” said senior Eric Burbank, who scored three in the first half as the Cadets built a 9-3 lead.
“I think we leaned a lot from those losses. They got us ready for these games. I wouldn’t change anything. We don’t really want to.”
This was St. Joseph’s seventh Class S title in 10 final appearances.
Seventh-seeded East Catholic, making its first appearance in a final after reaching five of the previous six semifinals, finished 14-6.
“Once you get a taste, you want to come back,” Eagles coach Patrick Bushnell said.
“We fell a little bit short, but I’m really, really proud of their effort. They’ve been a resilient team all year long, and I think they showed it out here today. We just needed a few more minutes on clock.”
Ryan Heslin finished with five goals for East Catholic, all in the second half, and Colin Heslin scored three. Owen Bergquist made 14 saves.
“Without him, we’re not in this game at all,” Bushnell said. “He stood on his head. He made saves when we needed saves, and I thought he cleared the ball really well.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) June 12, 2021
Ryan Daly scored four goals for St. Joseph, including three in a row in the second quarter, as St. Joseph forced turnover after turnover on East Catholic clear attempts.
“We rode really hard in that first half. We wanted to get that and get on our attack about riding, getting the ball back,” Talbot said. “That was definitely a difference in the first half. We had a lot of possession.”
But Talbot said the Cadets expected a third-quarter push from the Eagles, and it came. Bushnell said his halftime message was to stay the course, figuring the first-half nerves would’ve worked themselves out, and many of those early mistakes dissipated.
It also helped that the third was the only quarter in which East Catholic had any kind of edge at the faceoff ‘X’. Jack Kilmartin otherwise dominated.
“All season, he’s been going up against some of the best kids in the state,” Burbank said.
“He’s a big kid, physical. When we got to Class S, he really came into his own. … When you can kind of play make-and-take like that, it’s huge.”
The Cadets split the net between Josh Gottschalk and Max Kimmel, and Kimmel made five stops in the fourth quarter as the Eagles fired 16 shots.
“Neither one got beat out for the position,” Talbot said.
“They took us all the way home. It got a little tight in the second half, but Max made some big saves.”
They’re two of those seniors Talbot was dreading to watch get off the bus.