By John Nestor
Pomperaug High boys lacrosse coach Chris Grassi had been waiting all season for his team to put four solid quarters together. The Panthers finally delivered big time Thursday night in Southbury.
Pomperaug broke open a close game with a first-quarter scoring onslaught and never let up in a 15-3 victory over Notre Dame-Fairfield in a SWC Division II tournament semifinal.
The top-seeded Panthers advance to the final against No. 2 Stratford. The fourth-seeded Lancers now turn their attention to the Class S state tournament.
There will be no state tournament for Pomperaug, which finished the regular season 4-12 but went 4-1 in the SWC Division II to earn the top seed. Despite not going to the state tournament, the Panthers still have a lot to play for after losing the in the title game the last two seasons.
"This was the first game this season where we played the entire game the way we are capable and put four good quarters together," Grassi said. "Now we have to go do it one more time against Stratford and see if we can't bring home a SWC championship trophy instead of being a runner-up."
To get another crack at a SWC title, the Panthers had to get past the Lancers, who won the regular-season meeting 14-13 in overtime on May 6. This one started out like it would be close as the game was scoreless approximately halfway through the first quarter, but then the floodgates opened for the Panthers.
Caleb Saleeby scored two of his five goals in the first quarter as the Panthers put up six goals in the final six minutes of the opening quarter to take a 6-0 lead. Saleeby and Max Holguin scored in the second quarter to extend the lead to 8-0 before Notre Dame final got on the board to cut the lead to 8-2 at the break.
"I didn't know what to expect with everything that has gone on lately, all the distractions," Grassi said. "We didn't practice yesterday with school being cancelled but this team always comes out and plays hard and that's what they did tonight. We know we have talent and it's a matter of putting it all together on the field."
While Pomperaug was rolling, Notre Dame just couldn't get anything started. Buried by the slow start in the first quarter, the Lancers never mounted a comeback despite scoring the final two goals of the first half.
Wade Prajer (three goals) and Saleeby both tallied in the first minute of the third quarter and any hopes of a Notre Dame comeback were essentially over. Pomperaug added four more goals in the third, including a pair by Colin Cassidy to extend its lead to 14-2 entering the fourth.
"We have been struggling all season with consistency," Notre Dame coach Frank Skawinski said. "We didn't win ground balls, we got behind and once that happened it all went down hill and got away from us."
Notre Dame has to get right back at it on Saturday when it hosts Housatonic Regional in a Nos. 16-vs.-17 qualifying-round matchup to start the Class S state tournament. A date with top-seeded Lewis Mills (18-0) awaits the winner.
"We need to find some leaders, we need kids to come out and play hard and not get down when things don't go their way," Skawinski said. "We have 12 seniors and that's supposed to be a strength of this team. Sometimes it is but sometimes it isn't."
John Nestor is a freelance reporter
SWC Div. II boys lacrosse semifinal
Pomperaug 15, Notre Dame-Fairfield 3
POMPERAUG 6 2 6 1--15
NOTRE DAME 0 2 0 1--3
Scoring: P--Caleb Saleeby 5g, 1a; Wade Prajer 3g, 2a; Evan Cyganowski 2g, 2a; Joshua Pendergast 1g, 2a; Nickolas Harper 1g, 1a; Max Holguin 1g, 1a; Ian Rawlinson 1g; Colin Cassidy 1g; Spencer Pope 2a. ND-F--Garrett Gintoli 2g; Kenneth DuBose 1g.