Coach Ron Chase and company preached it to keep the defense fresh and kill the clock. But in order to get into that mode, the 13th-seeded Blue Knights had to forge a lead against No. 20, but always dangerous CCC West foe Conard.
The boys who have carried the Southington offense all season long saw to that.
Kevin Cop and Jared DeFeo had hat tricks and Jarod Florian added a pair of goals Sunday to lead Southington to a 9-4 victory over the Chieftains at Joseph Fontana Field.
Southington (11-7) advances to a first-round game at No. 4 New Milford on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
Conard, coached by veteran Bill Condon, whom Chase called “a mentor,” is a familiar foe. Southington defeated the Chieftains (6-10) by the identical score in their regular-season confrontation on April 26.
Both coaches had a mind to play aggressive defense to seize the early initiative.
“We pushed, definitely,” Chase said. “We thought about playing zone, but when we watched the film we decided to go after them. If we had to go back to the zone to rest our defense, we would.”
The Knights responded to the aggressive ploy by scoring the first six goals.
The first, by Florian, was critical.
A Conard midfielder picked up a ground ball in his defensive end and was making his way up the left sideline when Florian cut him off. He rapped the top of the ballcarrier’s stick and the ball came out of his cage.
Florian picked it up, angled directly toward the right corner of the Conard goal and popped the net with 1:43 gone in the first quarter.
“We talked about it a lot. We wanted to be all over them,” Florian said. “Me, Kevin [Cop] and [Chris] Gamber were taking the ball away a lot.”
Steve Hamel won the ensuing draw with Florian picking up the grounder. Cop controlled the ball within scoring position. He faked right to the outside, gained an inside advantage on his defender and unleashed a powerful left-handed shot to increase the lead to 2-0.
A Conard timeout and Southington penalty failed to reverse momentum. Southington goalie Brian Mahon (14 saves) made a stop and Hamel stuffed a shot in close to kill the penalty.
In the eighth minute, DeFeo unleashed a shot that caught the frame of the net and caromed past the goal line despite the efforts of Conard goalie Tim Fisher (13 saves).
Cop capped the first quarter with his second goal within the next minute for a 4-0 lead.
The plot thickened in the second chapter with successive goals that displayed the Knights’ burgeoning offensive synergy.
DeFeo broke into space 18 yards out. Gamber crept out from behind the net to Fisher’s right and broke in front just in time to receive the pass and sling it home. Two minutes later, Mike Majchrzak flipped it in deep to Gamber, who one-touched it to Florian for a 6-0 lead.
“We’ve had a lot of guys step up,” Chase said. “Sophomores like Florian, Gamber and Majchrzak started playing well and the older guys became leaders.”
But Conard teams don’t go down without a fight. The Chieftains got goals from John Palermo, Jacob Karas and Jackson Boisvert within 1:19 to cut the lead in half as intermission approached.
The Knights controlled the pace in the third quarter.
“We slowed it up on purpose to get the momentum back,” Chase said. “We do a better job when we’re moving the ball back and forth. We got back to our game plan.”
Conard pressured the first three minutes for that vital initial tally of the second half, but came up empty. The Knights patiently sliced the next four minutes off the clock and Cop scored with 5:22 left in the period.
Conard cut it back to three on a goal by Jack Gerundo two minutes later, but the Knights played lock-down defense for the duration.
DeFeo scored after receiving a diagonal pass from middie Alex Jamele in the second minute of the fourth quarter and closed the scoring with 8:57 remaining on the rebound of a shot by Gamber to book passage to New Milford.
“They’re as good as it gets,” Chase said of the Green Wave. “They’re extremely good offensively. Our offense has to be patient so our defense can catch their breath.”