Jun. 10—MANCHESTER — Ryan Heslin is the top goal scorer in Connecticut.
But what the senior does as a leader for the East Catholic High boys lacrosse team is just as important and a big reason the Eagles have advanced to their first state championship game.
Heslin, one of only four seniors on the East Catholic roster, scored six goals Wednesday to bring his season's total to 85 as the seventh-seeded Eagles rolled past No. 14 Granby 13-5 in a Class S state tournament semifinal.
"It's a tough role but it's one I love having," Heslin said of his leadership responsibility. "I love being a guy that others look up to. But our young guys are real mature and they know what they have to do. They get it done."
East Catholic (14-5) will take on No. 17 St. Joseph-Trumbull (10-8) on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Trumbull High. The two-time reigning champion Cadets routed fourth-seeded St. Paul 20-5 Wednesday to advance.
Will Bergquist added a hat trick while Jake Carbone scored two goals and dished out six assists for the Eagles.
Granby (10-9) got on the board first Wednesday but Heslin answered a minute later to help settle the Eagles into their game.
"Ryan's leadership has been so understated throughout the year," East Catholic coach Patrick Bushnell said. "He's been that rudder that's kept the ship going in the right direction. We talked about how our limited number of seniors had to step up and fill in the gap year we had last year. We really put a lot on their shoulders and they took it and ran with it. And Ryan is the leader of the leaders."
Heslin had a hat trick at the break. He and Mathieu Zazzaro then netted two goals each as East Catholic opened the third quarter with five unanswered goals to lead 11-2. The Bears got no closer than the final margin.
"I don't get into those situations without the guys around me," Heslin said. "Jake Carbone is only a sophomore. Will Bergquist is only a freshman. Without those guys I wouldn't have the opportunities. My job is to finish them."
East Catholic junior goalie Owen Bergquist finished with nine saves.
The Eagles had shut out Granby 13-0 in the teams' first meeting on April 15. The Bears were better Wednesday, but the Eagles also showed how they've improved.
"Our defense played amazing," Bergquist said. "But I give Granby credit. They came ready to shoot and to play. We knew they'd be a new team and not the one we played before. We knew we had to bring everything we had."
It was enough to get East Catholic by what had become a huge hurdle.
Starting in 2013, the Eagles have made it to the state tournament quarterfinals eight straight times with this being their sixth semifinal appearance. They were 0-5 in the final four before Wednesday, including a heartbreaking one-goal loss to Bacon Academy in 2019.
East Catholic wasn't taking Granby, anyone, or anything for granted.
"I don't think we even looked at who the team was, instead we focused on the opportunity that we had in front of us," Heslin said. "Now we're the history team. We thought last year could have been our year and obviously it didn't happen. Two years ago we had it ripped away from us. This was the team to do it."
Heslin is headed to the University of Richmond in the fall and, as of now, will be a full-time student. He plans to major in neuroscience with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
"I want to work with athletes," Heslin said.
That's in the future. He still has one more day of work as an athlete to go.
With an opportunity to go out on top.
For coverage of all sports in the JI's 18-town coverage area, plus updates on the UConn women's basketball team and head coach Geno Auriemma, follow Carl Adamec on Twitter: @CarlAdamec, Facebook: Carl Adamec, and Instagram: @CarlAdamec.