BRISTOL — Being the only Class S boys lacrosse school in the elite FCIAC has been a blessing the last 15 years for St. Joseph, which usually produces a strong, deep run in the CIAC Class S tournament.
“Playing in the FCIAC is a gauntlet for us,” St. Joseph boys lacrosse coach Brendan Talbot said. “We played Darien (ranked No. 1 in GameTimeCT.com poll) , Staples (No. 2), Ridgefield (No. 5), New Canaan (No. 7), Wilton (No. 3), Greenwich (No. 8), Fairfield Ludlowe, scrimmaged Cheshire (No. 9) and beat New Fairfield (No. 6) and Fairfield Warde.
“We might play the toughest schedule in the state every year. It’s not about our record, it is about our resumé. There are no days off in the FCIAC and the best teams force you to play your best. Iron sharpens iron. By the time we get to the state playoffs there is nothing that we haven’t seen or prepared for.”
The FCIAC gauntlet paid off again for the Cadets on Wednesday. Ryan Daly had eight goals and two assists, Eric Burbank added four goals and Joshua Gottschalk had five saves to lead No. 17 St. Joseph to a 20-5 win over No. 4 St. Paul in the CIAC Class S Boys Lacrosse semifinal at McPhee Field.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Talbot said after the game. “When you play seven of the Top 10 teams in the state it allows you to focus on weaknesses and improve. Our guys have been focused and locked in the past two days. Jack Kilmartin was focused on our faceoffs and it allowed us to dominate ball possession.
“Ryan Daly is the smartest lacrosse player I have ever coached. He’s a calming influence on the field and calms down all the nerves.”
The Cadets entered the postseason with a 7-8 record and will face the No. 7 East Catholic in the final at Trumbull on Saturday at a time to be announced. The Cadets advanced to their 10th Class S championship game since the CIAC boys lacrosse tournament went to a Class L, M and S format in 2006. They have won six Class S titles.
St. Joseph won 23 of 26 faceoffs in the game and set the tone early — and often — in the first quarter. Daly scored off a low shot with 10:55 to go in the first quarter, Joshua Newell scored 38 seconds later and Eric Burbank gave St. Joseph a 3-0 lead with 8:09 to go. Christian Decker scored for the Falcons to cut the lead to 3-1 with 6:37 to go.
The Cadets answered with four unanswered goals capped by a Johnny Karafa goal with 2:03 to go in the first quarter for a 7-1 lead. The first half ended with St. Joseph leading 15-3.
The Cadets (11-8) spent most of the second half taking time off the clock.
“The key today for us was limiting the turnovers,” Daly said. “This was one of our better games of the season, the first time we played a full 48 minutes of solid lacrosse. Like coach said, playing in the FCIAc gets you prepared for the postseason.
“In the FCIAC you are playing not only the best teams and players in Connecticut, but the best teams and players in the country. That kind of talent exposes your weaknesses. East Catholic is a good team and that will be a tough game. But we will be prepared for that one too.”
Connor Matthews had four saves for the Falcons who finish the season 14-5.
“We tried making adjustments in the game, but they are a focused and talented team,” St. Paul coach Chris Kennedy said. “We have some young kids on our team and they dropped balls they normally didn’t drop in other games this season.
“But they will learn. At 14-5 we had a very good season and it was a great accomplishment to get this far.”
Talbot is looking forward to a tough game against East Catholic in the final.
“Because of our record we know we will be on the road throughout the playoffs but you have beat the teams ahead of you in order to win the tournament,” Talbot said. “We wouldn’t say in the postseason we ‘cruise’ to the final but we understand it takes four (or five) games to win the tournament.
“We need to play our best each time out and treat each game as the state championship. Step No. 4 was tonight and No. 5 is on Saturday against East Catholic.”