New London - Staring at an early three-goal deficit, Norwich Free Academy never panicked Wednesday.
The highly-motivated Wildcats simply just played harder.
"We just needed to stay calm and possess on offense and just get a couple of goals to start us off," senior Devon Giannelli said. "Once we get a few goals, we obviously keep rolling. ... It's really tough to stop us."
Third-seeded NFA scored seven straight goals to seize control of the Eastern Connecticut Conference boys' lacrosse semifinal and then held off a late Stonington surge for a 9-8 win at Connecticut College.
The victory set up a championship meeting with top-seeded East Lyme, an 8-6 winner over No. 4 Ledyard. Game time is 5 p.m. Friday at New London High School.
"I don't care who we play," said NFA coach Kyle Legnos who had to wait to find out his championship game opponent. "I'm just happy we're in the championship. ... Our goal is to win it, so we're one step closer."
Wednesday's win also avenged a semifinal loss to Stonington in last year's ECC tournament.
The second-seeded Bears (12-5) struck quickly, taking a 3-0 lead in the first four minutes on goals by Dan Riordan, Collin Williams and Zach Poirier.
The outburst seemed to bring NFA (14-3) to life. The Wildcats, who won the regular season meeting 7-5, started to control play. They won the majority of groundballs and ran a patient attack against a zone defense.
Giannelli, junior Joey Mitchell and junior Steven Makowicki each scored two goals apiece during the run to hand NFA a 7-3 lead at halftime.
"We didn't possess on offense and they were outhustling us in the first half," Stonington coach Paul Deon said.
Momentum shifted again in the third quarter, as Stonington scored three straight goals, including one by senior Collin Williams (three goals) who cut the gap to 7-6.
Senior Conor O'Rourke scored his second goal to give NFA an 8-6 cushion. And Makowicki completed his hat trick for a 9-6 lead only 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Bears answered again. Williams and freshman Jack Riordan scored to close the gap to 9-8 with 3:37 remaining.
But late mistakes prevented the Bears completing their comeback. They committed a penalty with 1:19 remaining and then they failed to get a shot off after gaining possession for the final 20.7 seconds.
They played hard," Legnos said of Stonington. "They were very patient with the ball just like us. I think the game plan was very similar on both sides. ... We're just happy to come out on top."
Junior goalie Evan Callahan made 14 saves to help the Wildcats earn the championship berth.
East Lyme won both regular season meetings, 10-1 on April 24 and 11-10 in overtime on May 17.
"We've lost to East Lyme twice, which is big, big motivation for us to beat them in the finals," Giannelli said. We're going to go out and play hard."
• East Lyme (14-3) rallied from a 2-1 halftime deficit to win its semifinal. The Vikings scored three goals in the third quarter to take a 4-3 lead.
Chad Berry scored three goals and Evan Long added two while Mitchell Andres had a goal and two assists and Mac Brodaski had three assists for the Vikings. Liam Williams won 14 of 15 faceoffs.
Connor Witt had two goals and Alex Manwaring had one goal and three assists for the Colonels (9-8).