Ellington Has Big Second Half to Beat Valley Regional in Quarterfinals

ELLINGTON-While playing quality team defense is always important in boy’s lacrosse, it takes on an even greater level of emphasis in the playoffs. A team is playing the best offenses Connecticut has to offer, and their defenders must display complete focus and execute to the best of their ability. Only by doing so can they pressure strong offensive players and cause their team’s game plan to fail. On Saturday, Ellington High’s Schools defense did just this to Valley Regional High in the Class M Tournament quarterfinals.

The fourth-seeded Knights held No. 4 Valley Regional to one goal in the second half while scoring seven, sprinting away to an impressive 12-5 win in front of a rambunctious home crowd. Ellington took the lead for good late in the second quarter and grabbed control by holding the Warriors scoreless in the third. Its offense was led by attackers Zach Dougherty (senior) and Blake Printy (freshman). Dougherty earned five goals and four assists, while Printy had three goals.

The Knights excellent defensive play is evidenced through multiple statistics, including senior goalie Samuel Greenberg’s eight saves and the 32 ground balls they secured (to Valley’s 7).

Ellington advances to play top-seeded Somers in the semifinals on Wednesday. Somers defeated No. 8 East Catholic 9-6 in its quarterfinal.

The Knights took the lead for good near the end of the first half. After Valley Regional attacker Rocky Harpin tied the score at four with 1:49 to go, Dougherty and Printy immediately responded. Dougherty delivered a pinpoint pass to his sidekick, who fired a close shot past goalie Jacob Azzinarro eight seconds later.

Ellington dominated the third and opening minutes of the fourth. On defense, it constantly pressured Warrior midfielders and attackers, not allowing them to move the ball quickly down the field or find ideal space to make good passes or shots. Knights defenders frequently altered or blocked passes and shots and especially close to the goal, clearly frustrating their opponents. When Valley players were able to make good shots Greenberg was there to make difficult saves, as he recorded 6 in the second half. As the second half went deeper the Warriors had increased difficulty sustaining long offensive possessions, with Ellington’s offense taking advantage.

“The defense played very well,” Knights head coach Dave Giordano said. “Valley has a couple good offensive threats. Luckily, we had a good scout watching them, and we tried to use the scout’s feedback to make sure they didn’t have an opportunity with those players. For the most part we were successful, and our man-down defense played especially well.”

Ellington offense moved the ball well and obtained good passes and shots from the opening whistle of the second half. It struck first 3:17 in when senior midfielder Colby Unterstein beat Azzinarro to his right off a pass from Dougherty, giving the Knights a 6-4 lead. After they failed to convert on a few opportunities, Dougherty gave them a three-goal lead with 4:33 remaining in the third. He maneuvered past a defender and fired a rocket shot in. Dougherty continued to be a catalyst and scored another athletic goal with 38 seconds to go, and Ellington took an 8-4 advantage into the fourth. He and multiple teammates regularly displayed speed and agility in outrunning defenders and escaping from their physical play, leading to goals.

“Our offense worked on some things in practice to combat their zone defense, and as you saw it worked pretty well,” Giordano said. “We were able to force them back out into a man defense, and we were patient offense like we needed to be. All in all, I was very proud of their performance.”

“It was a well-fought game and our offense needed to work together,” Dougherty said. “Their defense was switching between man and zone, and we worked together and did what we worked on in practice. We showed we knew our stuff.”

The Knights maintained their momentum in the opening minutes of the fourth. The offense raced down the field in the opening seconds and immediately scored on a low shot by junior midfielder Hunter Neal, assisted by Dougherty. Valley Regional quickly responded on a smooth goal by Harpin 1:14 in to make it 9-5. However, Dougherty responded with more great offensive play. He scored an unassisted goal 1:03 later, going from one side of the goal to the other and beating Azzinarro from up top. After a few minutes of strong defensive play by the Warriors, Dougherty put Ellington up 11-5 with 5:40 remaining.

Dougherty provided the reasons for his great offensive performance.

“I cut away from defenders and was able to expose their weak side. My teammate Colby fed me well and did the same,” Dougherty said.

Sophomore midfielder Steven Moller scored the Knights final goal of the game at the 1:54 mark. Dougherty earned another assist on it.

The first half was more evenly matched, with Ellington and Valley Regional trading goals. Midfielder Charlie Ferrucci scored the opening goal 2:53 in, with Printy tying it 33 seconds later off a pass from Moller. Midfielder Jonathan Brophy again put his Warriors in front halfway through the first, with attacker Sean Cole earning an assist on the goal. The Knights responded with goals at the 4:29 and 2:28 marks. The first was an unassisted score by Neal, and the second a low goal by Printy off a smooth pass by Neal. The offense continued to move the ball well and took a 4-2 advantage when Unterstein set up Dougherty’s first goal 2:49 into the second. Valley Regional quickly bounced back though, as Brophy and then Harpin tied the game.

Ellington will play NCCC rival Somers in the semifinals on Wednesday at a sight and time to be determined. It will have a mighty challenge against the top-seeded Spartans, who defeated the Knights 20-3 and 19-4 this season. Somers won last season’s Class S Tournament, while Ellington lost in the second round.

Giordano said Ellington needs to avoid playing rushed and stay in defensive positions in the semifinals. He is excited about the team’s momentum and is confident they can play well against Somers.

“It’s not about who we play, it’s about how we play that determines our success.”

Dougherty also discussed where the Knights can play better in the semifinals and their momentum.

“We can improve our stick work and avoid turnovers. We have a lot of momentum because this is the furthest our team has ever gone in states and probably the best in program history.”

 

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