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Simsbury can’t solve riddle of Staples’ defense in Class L semis

Simsbury's John Ryan (4) gets past Staples' Jack Greenwald in Wednesday's Class L semifinal game in Cheshire.

Simsbury’s John Ryan (4) gets past Staples’ Jack Greenwald in Wednesday’s Class L semifinal game in Cheshire.

CHESHIRE, June 5 – This wasn’t the season for high scoring lacrosse games at Simsbury High. Yes, the Trojans had an occasional outburst with 13 goals in a win over Newington, 19 in a victory over Windsor and 17 goals in an emotional win over RHAM, honoring a former player who passed away a week earlier.

This was a year for defenders and goalies. “We relied heavily on our defense to carry us,” Simsbury High coach Jim Martocchio said. “They did the job for us.”

And they peaked in the waning weeks of the season. The Trojans outlasted Southington, 8-6 in the semifinals of the CCC West tournament and then stunned regular season champion Glastonbury in the tournament final in overtime, 5-4.

In the Class L state tournament, the Trojans gave up six goals to Norwalk’s Brien McMahon in an 11-6 victory and just one goal in a 5-1 win over Southington in the Class L quarterfinals.

Yet in the Class L semifinals, Simsbury ran up against another defense-oriented team and saw their bid for earn a spot in the championship end in a 4-2 loss at Cheshire High. Staples and goalie Cole Gendels stood toe to toe with Simsbury and their defenders.

Gendels made eight stops in net including a point blank save on Simsbury’s Tim Lockyer late in the first quarter to keep the game scoreless. “He’s been like that all year,” Staples coach Paul McNulty said. “He’s been making point blank saves in games all season.”

Simsbury goalie Tim Maher feels the pressure from Staples'  Joey Zelkowitz.

Simsbury goalie Tim Maher feels the pressure from Staples’ Joey Zelkowitz.

Maher made 14 saves in net and kept the Trojans in the game. “No one wanted this more than he did,” Martocchio said. “He is one of the best goalies in the state.”

Maher has been exceptional in Simsbury’s postseason run. The Trojans finished the regular season at 13-3 and 6-1 in the CCC West behind Glastonbury, who was undefeated in the league. The Tomahawks outlasted Simsbury, 8-4 in mid-May.

But after that loss to Glastonbury, Simsbury won its next five games to earn a berth in the Class L semifinals.

After a 13-4 win over South Windsor to close out the regular season, Maher had 13 saves and Aaron Riccio had three goals as Simsbury outlasted Southington in the semifinals of the CCC West tournament.

In the championship game against Glastonbury, Burr scored late in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. Only a few minutes into OT, John Ryan took a feed from Riccio to score the championship-winning goal. Maher had nine saves, including four in the first quarter to keep his team in the game and earn tournament MVP honors.

“He’s been so solid the past few games,” Martocchio said. “He’s a leader. He knows if he (mentally) crumbles, the defense will crumble around him. One of his big accomplishments this season was getting mentally tough.”

In the Class L tournament, Ricco had four goals in an 11-6 win over Brien McMahon while Maher made 11 saves in net. In the quarterfinals, Maher and his defensive teammates held Southington to a season-low one goal. Maher made 7 saves. Mason Burr had three goals for Simsbury while Riccio added two.

Staples was just as tough defensively, holding Simsbury scoreless through three quarters or 36 minutes. And Simsbury had their chances. David Sizer hit the crossbar midway through the second quarter. Riccio was stopped at the net in the fourth quarter while teammate Eli Zempsky also hit the post late in the fourth quarter.

“Our offense tried their hardest. But I think the posts were bigger here than in Simsbury,” Martocchio said with a chuckle.

“We knew that we needed to get our shooters free, so we were starting to work some picks and some things from behind to try to get some more opportunities,” he said. “We were getting some shots. They just weren’t going in. (Gendels) played very well.”

Colin Bannon gave Staples a 1-0 lead with 5:41 left in the second quarter when he scored on a ball that got past Maher, hit the inside of the post and bounced into the goal. The Wreckers (16-4) made it 2-0 with 2:55 remaining when Tucker Bobrow ripped a shot past Maher.

Staples made it 3-0 with an outstanding offensive play by Bannon. He somehow managed to bump and grind his way past three Simsbury defenders to get in front of the net and get one past Maher with 4:34 left in the third quarter.

Simsbury got on the scoreboard with 8:16 remaining as Riccio, in front of the net, took a feed from Sizer, who was behind the net, and scored to cut the lead to 3-1. But about a minute later, Lance Lonergan picked up a loose ball and ran the length of the field to beat Maher and give the Wreckers a 4-1 lead.

John Ryan’s goal with 57 seconds left off an assist from Zempsky gave the Trojans a flicker of hope but Staples controlled the ball in the final minute.

Maher gave it his all. He had one point blank save that was deflected off his stick.

In the third quarter, he moved out of his crease to try and help advance the ball upfield. He absorbed a hard hit that sent him flying out of bounds. Later in the fourth quarter, he raced out of his net after a Staples shot that went flying out of bounds. Possession is awarded to the team whose player is closer to the ball.

“It’s hard,” Martocchio said in the minutes after the defeat. “The hardest thing is saying goodbye to 12 seniors.” It was an emotional moment with some tears and applause from the Simsbury High fans as each senior left the turf for the final time as a high school athlete. 

Staples-Westport 4, Simsbury 2
At Cheshire
Staples (16-4)                        0  2  1  1  — 4
Simsbury (17-4)                     0  0  0  2  – 2
Goals: Staples – Colin Bannon 2, Tucker Bobrow, Lance Lonergan; Simsbury – John Ryan, Aaron Riccio; Saves – Tim Maher, Simsbury, 14, Cole Gendels, Staples, 8; Shots – Staples 25-12

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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