Notre Dame-Fairfield's boys lacrosse team will get its second chance within a 10-day span to knock off the same undefeated team on Wednesday in Burlington after the Lancers advanced to the first round of the CIAC Class S state tournament.
Notre Dame improved to 9-9 on Saturday morning at McCarty Stadium by defeating Housatonic Valley Regional 9-7 in a qualifying round game of the state tournament in Fairfield. The Lancers, who closed out the regular season on May 25 with a 12-10 loss to Lewis Mills, will play the top-seeded Spartans (18-0) in four days, this time in the state playoffs.
Notre Dame, seeded 16th, opened a 7-2 lead at halftime, then allowed the Mountaineers (7-10) to rally to within two goals, at 7-5, in the second minute of the fourth quarter before finally responding with a pair of scores to gain a four-goal lead. Housatonic, which is a Berkshire League school playing in the Western Connecticut Lacrosse Conference, similar to Lewis Mills, scored the game's last two goals for its final two-goal deficit.
The regional high school is in Falls Village, and the bus ride down Route 7 took nearly an hour and 45 minutes.
Senior captain Garrett Gintoli led the Lancers with three goals and three assists, with only one assist in the second half. The other Lancer to record a hat-trick, junior Craig Hessenius, became the first player in Notre Dame history to reach and surpass the 100-goal mark for career goals, coach Frank Skawinski said. Hessenius's milestone goal began the second-quarter scoring and gave Notre Dame a 4-1 lead. His 101st goal closed the first-half scoring, and made it 7-2 when he converted a pass from Gintoli in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
"We absolutely need to develop more of killer instinct, which we don't have," said Skawinksi, who was thrilled with Hessenius's record but more focused on the Lancers being forced to withstand the Mountaineers' rally. "We need more of a sense of urgency. We would teeter-off, then put the pedal to the medal, especially on offense."
The bulk of the attack responsibilities were carried by Hessenius and Gintoli, but Gintoli's assist on a Dana Lewis goal in the second minute of the fourth quarter, which gave Notre Dame an 8-5 lead, was the only point between the pair in the second half. Senior Mike DeGennaro netted two goals for the Lancers, their second of the game and their last.
Notre Dame's defense was unsettled, Skawinski said, because of the absence from injury by senior Manny Rosales. Rosales should be back for the first-round game on Wednesday, Skawinski said. "That kind of hurt us (without) his awareness, presence and communication. He's the captain of the defense."
That lack of cohesiveness, in addition to some mental mistakes by the Lancers at both ends of the field, Skawinski said, was exploited the most during Housatonic's three-goal spree at the start of the second half, on goals by Nate Burcroff (two) and Jason Diamond.
The Mountaineers were playing without two starters, coach Steve Pener said. "We've been an undermanned team all year," he said. "We're used to it. It was our best game all season today.
"They responded well to the long bus ride. We started to make it competitive. We disrupted their flow. When we got the ball, we moved it well."
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CIAC Class S qualifying round
Notre Dame-Fairfield 9, Housatonic Valley Regional 7
HOUSATONIC 1 1 2 3--7
NOTRE DAME 3 4 0 2--9
Records: Housatonic 7-10; Notre Dame 9-9. Scoring: H--Cameron Gilson 1 goal, 2 assists, Wes Reel (2g), Nate Burcroff (2g), Jason Diamond (1g, 1a), Tyler Bilch (1g), Jeremy Stiewing (1a); ND-F--Garrett Ginotli (3g, 3a), Craig Hessenius (3g), Mike DeGennaro (2g), Dana Lewis (1g, 1a), K.K. DuBose (1a), Andrew Fallon (1a). Goalies: H--Keith Harvey (12 saves); ND-F-- Andres Rosales (6). Shots: H--28; ND-F--39.