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Domination of South-West Conference opponents continues, but Newtown High School’s boys’ lacrosse team is perhaps gleaning more from its setbacks early on this spring.
Newtown’s only documented takeaway from its first two of three games against tough Westchester County, N.Y., teams are losses that will somewhat hurt them in the state standings and rankings; even these out-of-Connecticut matchups count in the state playoff picture. The positive, however, Newtown Coach Scott Bulkley believes, is that his team’s exposure to this tough competition will outweigh the drop in state playoff seeding and pay dividends when the South-West Conference and state playoffs roll around.
The Nighthawks, for the second week in a row, followed up a pair of games in which they thoroughly outplayed SWC opponents with a hard-fought loss at the hands of a challenging squad from Westchester Country. Newtown, on April 14, fell 16-12 to visiting Archbishop Stepinac at Blue & Gold Stadium, after throttling visiting Brookfield 19-2 two days earlier. In the game before that, the Hawks blew out Bethel 17-2. They bounced back from the Stepinac game with another convincing win in conference, toppling visiting New Milford 14-3 on April 17. The Hawks outscored their first five SWC opponents a cumulative — and somewhat ridiculous — 92-9. They lost 13-8 to Mamaroneck, and have yet to take on Briarcliff, which will come to Blue & Gold on Saturday, May 5, for a 5 pm faceoff. Newtown also plays tough Connecticut teams Simsbury and Glastonbury in road matchups that stand to help prepare it for playoff lacrosse.
“You learn more from a loss than you do in a win,” Bulkley said after the Stepinac game, a contest in which the Hawks clawed back from 8-3 down to eventually trim the deficit to a goal at 11-10 in the second half. “You need to play teams like this to get better.”
Bulkley said Stepinac exhibits a level of play that is much more difficult to keep up with than most of the early-season competition has provided.
“This team’s bigger, stronger, faster, and they move the ball really well. It’s hard to mimic that in practice,” he said.
Newtown’s coach said that strong work on faceoffs and some early-game lengthy possessions by Stepinac wore down his defenders.
“Sometimes when you have a tired defense out there you make mental mistakes that get you in trouble,” Bulkley said.
“Win or lose, we are taking a lot of information — both positive and negative — away,” the coach added. “They capitalized on our mental mistakes.”
Newtown overcame some of its early struggles and was within 8-6 late in the first half and a pair of turnovers proved costly as Stepinac cashed in with a pair of net-finders, the last of which was with just 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It was 10-6 at the break.
After the teams traded goals early in the third, the Hawks ran off three straight tallies again, making the score 11-10.
Layton Harrell circled in front from behind the goal area to convert and make it 11-8 with 8:01 left in the third, Tucker Garrity used a burst of speed to move in and score less than a minute later, and Evan Eggleston followed up a rebound of his own shot that was blocked by a defender, and deposited the ball into the back of the goal with 3:37 to go in the half.
Stepinac got the next two tallies in the third quarter and led 13-10 heading to the fourth.
Harrell scored from a sharp angle to get the Hawks to within 13-11 just 51 seconds into the final period, but Stepinac got the next three to put the game out of reach. The lead pushed to 14-11 on a delayed penalty goal less than two minutes after Harrell’s tally.
“I think our effort was really good. It’s tough when you keep falling behind and get closer,” Bulkley said. “We’re starting to fight for each other which is a good sign.”
This game was a battle that got a bit too physical at times, including some extracurricular stuff after the whistle, and penalties against both teams.
Harrell finished with four goals, Garrity had three tallies and an assist, Eggleston and Brandon Manka both scored twice, and Jeff Garrity notched a goal and an assist.
Andre Sokk led Newtown with four ground ball scoops, and Cayden Dunn and Michael Garner had three each.
The three potentially most difficult games against SWC teams don’t come until late in the season, when the Hawks take on Weston, Joel Barlow of Redding, and New Fairfield in May.
In the meantime, the Hawks stand to bolster their ranking against the other conference foes and increase their level of play outside of the conference. Bulkley knows coaches from the Westchester County teams from a combination of coaching high school and club lacrosse, and from his playing days.
In the 19-12 win over Brookfield on April 12, Harrell scored five goals and added an assist, Declan Sughrue netted four goals to go along with two assists, Jeff Garrity and Aiden Coleman both notched hat-tricks, Eggleston had a pair of net-finders and three assists, and Tucker Garrity logged a goal and four helpers to lead the offense. Patrick Grover scored, and Sokk, Jack Kuligowski, and Brett Pierce all had an assist.
Against New Milford, the Hawks peppered the Green Wave goal with 42 shots. Newtown beats New Milford 14-3. Jeff Garrity had three goals and two assists, Tucker Garrity and Harrell each logged two gaols and three assists, Coleman and Manka both scored twice, Eggleston had a goal and an assist, Kyle Shirk scored, and Dunn added a goal as well.