NORWALK >> A pair of goal-scoring flurries proved to be enough for the 23 seniors on the New Canaan boys’ lacrosse team to walk off of Casagrande Field as state champions.
Georgetown-bound senior Justin Meichner scored the game’s first four goals, including three in the opening 5 1/2 minutes, and the second-seeded Rams had a pair of crucial goals in the opening moments of the fourth quarter en route to a 10-5 win over No. 5 Hand in the Class M championship game on Saturday.
“You can’t take these teams lightly, you don’t know what to expect from them and we never played them before,” Meichner said.
New Canaan outscored Southern Connecticut Conference teams Foran and Guilford 34-3 in the first two games of the tournament, and the way the Rams charged out of the gate, it was looking like another runaway victory for New Canaan.
However, the Tigers settled down and began to exert their will in the title game aided by the first of two goals by senior Bryan McManus as well as some timely caused turnovers by Nick Leone.
“I think we came out a little tight in the first quarter. We started to clean it up in the second half,” Hand coach Paul Deon said. “A couple of balls didn’t bounce our way which happens from time to time. I thought up until a couple of points I thought we were in the game and I thought we always had a chance. I felt like we were right there nipping at their heels.
“Had we done a couple of things more on the ground balls and a couple of the mistakes that we made, if you take those away it might have been a little bit different. Kudos to them, they played an outstanding game.”
While Meichner was the headline performer, Hand sophomore goalie John Dowler also put on an impressive display on the big stage.
“He played well,” Meichner said. “He made some unbelievable saves on the ground. We decided to change the plan of our (offense).”
Dowler made 13 saves including some of the point-blank variety in the first half to allow the Tigers to remain within striking range.
“They are a really good team, credit to them,” Dowler said. “I tried to see the shots as best as possible, try to keep my head in it and not get too overwhelmed by them. Once we started going, the nerves settled down and we played our game. Last year we were in the semis against Darien and that helped get us to where we are today, next year hopefully we will back with a bunch of returning guys and hopefully we can win it next year.”
New Canaan (17-2) went in front 7-2 on a Ryan O’Connell goal with 7:14 left in the third quarter as the Rams were threatening to turn the game into a blowout. However, goals by Reid Sweitzer and George McGuirk pulled Hand within three goals.
Michael Kraus scored with 48.9 seconds left in the third quarter and again just 32 seconds into the fourth quarter. Kyle Smith added another goal to make it a 10-4 game before Lucas Mendicino answered for Hand (14-6).
The final minute or two was a case of New Canaan milking the clock before celebrating the program’s first state title in 12 years.
“It feels great,” Meichner said. “I love playing with these seniors, I have been playing with them for 12 years and all that we wanted to do is to come out on top in our final game together and I am happy that we did.”
New Canaan 10, Hand 5
Hand 0 2 2 1 — 5
New Canaan 3 3 2 2 — 10
Goals: (HD) Bryan McManus 2; George McGuirk 1; Lucas Mendicino 1; Reid Sweitzer 1; (NCA) Justin Meichner 4; Michael Kraus 2; Kyle Smith 1; Ryan O’Connell 1; Peter Swindell 1;
Assists: (HD) Brandon Miller 1; Reid Sweitzer 1; (NCA) Ryan O’Connell 4; Justin Meichner 1;
Saves: (HD) (HD) Jed Dowler 13;
Team records—New Canaan 17-2; Hand 14-6