FAIRFIELD -- For three quarters Saturday, one of Connecticut's best lacrosse teams matched one of New Jersey's best step for step.

Then, it all changed. Delbarton, N.J., the defending Non-Public A tournament champion in the Garden State, stepped up its play and scored five unanswered goals to start the fourth, thanks in part, to a slew of mistakes by Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits failed to answer, and dropped the out-of-state clash, 12-7, at Rafferty Stadium.

"We just made so many mental errors," Prep coach Chris Smalkais said. "This team does not possess the skill to put ourselves in holes like that. I don't question the effort, but I question the mental mistakes.

"Fairfield Prep lacrosse teams typically don't make mental errors of this magnitude -- throwing the ball away unforced, not getting the ball into the box."

Mistakes, uncharacteristic or not, contributed to Delbarton's fifth straight win over Prep. The Jesuits, who dropped to 2-2 on the season, last beat the New Jersey powerhouse in 2010.

Tied 6-6, Delbarton netted five goals over the first six minutes and 23 seconds of the fourth quarter. Shortly after Keegan Khan snapped the tie with 11:19 left, Delbarton netted two more goals -- by TJ Comizio and Emmet Cordrey -- off Prep giveaways to turn it into a one-sided affair.

The Jesuits pulled within 11-7 with 4:02 left on John Edmonds' goal from Colin Smalkais, but didn't get any closer. Connor Kirst capped the scoring just over two minutes later with his game-high fourth goal.

"This is the first big game for a lot of us," said Prep senior Patrick Lambert, who scored two goals. "The fourth quarter, tie game, there was a lot of pressure. That was definitely a factor for the young guys.

"It's definitely all correctable mistakes."

It didn't help that Prep was up against Delbarton goalie John Cree, who registered 13 saves, nine of which came in the first half. Cree's performance was so good that coach Chuck Ruebling gave the senior a rare momento in the postgame huddle.

"It's a very rare moment or game that we give out game balls," Ruebling said. "We're very team-oriented, but he certainly rose above and beyond today and saved us. We awarded a game ball to John Cree."

Prep controlled the possession during multiple stretches and outshot Delbarton 16-13 in the first half, but Cree stonewalled several point-blank scoring chances. Prep trailed 2-1 after the first quarter and tied it 3-3 in the second, but never led.

After Lambert tied it 3-3 with 1:47 left in the first half, Kirst answered with two goals over the final 33 seconds of the half to give Delbarton a 5-3 lead. The score stayed that way heading into halftime.

"He made some really big saves," Smalkais said of Cree. "Ultimately, we outshot them in the first half, and I think we just shot the ball poorly. We have to shoot the ball with a purpose."

Lambert concurred.

"We were hitting him in the stick (with shots) a lot," he said. "We've got to tuck them in the corner."

dbonjour@ctpost.com; twitter.com/DougBonjour

DELBARTON 2 3 1 6 -- 12

FAIRFIELD PREP 1 2 3 1 -- 7

Records: Delbarton 7-1; Prep 2-2. Scoring: D -- Connor Kirst (4g, 1a), Emmet Cordrey (2g, 4a), Ryan Onderdonk (1g, 1a), TJ Comizio (1g, 1a), Keegan Khan (1g, 1a), Troy Hanlon (1g), Andrew Ford (1g), Colin Crowley (1g); P -- John Edmonds (3g, 1a), Patrick Lambert (2g), Christopher Brown (1g, 1a), Brendan Hoffman (1g), Colin Smalkais (1a). Goalies: D -- John Cree (13 saves); P -- John O'Connor (13). Shots: D -- 36; P -- 25.