CANTON, June 4, 2022 – It was a little over a week ago that the Canton High boys lacrosse team met Somers for the NCCC Tournament championship.
In the third meeting of the year between the two NCCC rivals, Somers scored the first three goals of the game and led by as many as nine goals in a six-goal victory over the Warriors.
Things were different for Canton in Saturday’s Class S quarterfinals on the turf field. No. 3 Canton scored six of the first seven goals of the game to seize control and beat No. 6 Somers, 17-11, and advance to the semifinals of the Class S tournament for the first time in team history.
The Warriors (14-4) will face Northwest Catholic (16-4) on Wednesday at a neutral location for the right to advance to the Class S final at Sacred Heart University next weekend.
“We were prepared from the beginning of the game,” Canton coach Chris Weller said. “We didn’t want to get punched in the nose like we did last time (16-11 loss on May 26). They came out on fire (on May 26) and did a great job, giving us a big slice of humble pie. Today. we flipped that and we did it to them.”
Canton led 6-1 after one quarter with Mason Buckley scoring two of his game-high six goals and Ryker Bahre scoring the first two goals of the game. Ryan Weller scored with 22 seconds left in the quarter to give the Warriors an early five-goal lead.
Bahre finished with five goals and assist with Weller scoring four with one assist. Mark Freedenberg scored two goals and had two assists while Jake Bunnell had four assists for Canton.
“During the week, these guys were so focused on playing today and preparing to this offense,” Weller said. “Because we’ve played them so many times, we know their offense and we know their defenses. We knew how we wanted to play them and we had a good game plan.”
Somers (15-5) is also quite familiar with the Warriors and cut the lead to three goals, 9-6, late in the second quarter before a goal from Buckley with 22 seconds left in the first half gave Canton a 10-6 lead at the break.
Canton’s lead swelled to six goals but Somers rallied again with three consecutive goals to cut the lead to three, 14-11 with 5:44 remaining in the game. But a one-hop shot off the turf from Freedenberg with 4:12 remaining extended the lead to four and a hard shot from Weller with 3:10 remaining pushed the lead back to five, 16-11 and dampened Somers’ comeback hopes.
The Warriors also benefited from strong play in net from goalie Niko Giotsis, who made 20 saves, to blunt several Somers’ attempts to rally.
“Niko was fantastic today,” Chris Weller said. “In the last two weeks, he has been working with one of our defenders, Chris Gottlieb.”
Gottlieb’s older sister, Amanda, was an All-State goalie on the Canton girls lacrosse and went onto play four years at the University of New Hampshire. Chris Gottlieb is a defender now for the Warriors but was a goalie when he was younger and was coached by Chris Weller.
“Chris (Gottlieb) knows how to train goalkeepers from his Dad and others. He has been working with Niko on goalkeeping positioning and training and has really helped Niko out,” Chris Weller said. “Chris has really stepped up to help. He helped the defense. He helped (Niko) and that was a big deal for us. For an 18-year-old to be mature enough to do that is great.”
Cooper Barrett and Brian McGowan had four goals each for Somers while Ryan Birkenshaw had two.
The Warriors won their first CIAC tournament game in team history earlier in the week with a 13-7 win over New Fairfield.
Prior to this season, Canton had only qualified for the Class S tournament three times and had lost each opening round contest, including a 11-10 overtime loss to Granby a year ago.
NOTES: The two league rivals played four times this season and split the four games with Canton scoring one more goal that the Spartans. The two teams split the regular season games, each earning a 16-12 win. Somers won the NCCC final, 16-11 while Canton won Saturday, 17-11.
Canton 17, Somers 11
Somers (15-5) 1 5 2 3 — 11
Canton (14-4) 6 4 4 3 — 17
Goals: Brian McGowan (S) 4, Cooper Barrett (S) 4, Ryan Birkenshaw (S) 2, Gavin Rauza (S), Mason Buckley (C) 6, Ryker Bahre (C) 5, Ryan Weller (C) 4, Mark Freedenberg (C) 2; Assists: Barrett (S), Jake Bunnell (C) 4, Weller (C), Freedenberg (C) 2, Bahre (C), Will Wahlburger (C), Chris Gottlieb (C); Saves: Niko Giotsis (C) 20, Liam Jones (S) 6