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05/09/2022 12:00 AM

T-Birds Playing Speedy and Savvy This Season

Junior captain Elias Defaranos and the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team are inching closer to a spot in the playoffs with their overall record of 6-6 on the season. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

When the North Branford boys’ lacrosse team steps on the field, Head Coach Dave Carpenter wants the Thunderbirds to “Play fast, but play smart.” With his team’s regular season winding down, Coach Carpenter is hoping that the T-Birds’ tenacious play on the field will lead them to success in the playoffs this spring.

North Branford stands with a record of 6-6 after splitting a pair of games last week. The Thunderbirds started the week with a road game versus Cromwell on May 3 and came away with an 11-4 victory. Senior captain Jake Saldutti scored 5 goals to go 1 assist for North Branford in the win. Sophomore Luke Blomster had 2 goals with 2 assists, and senior captain Joey Marra scored 1 goal and had 2 assists.

Junior Ian Kamienski had 2 goals with 1 assist, senior Jake Palumbo had 1 goal and 1 assist, and sophomore Brady Martinik also had an assist for North Branford. Junior goalie Dradon Brindisi made six saves to get the win in net.

Saldutti and Marra are the Thunderbirds’ top point scorers on the season. Saldutti has 43 goals and 12 assists, while Marra has 14 goals with 15 assists this year. The duo is joined by Blomster on North Branford’s first line of attack. Led by two strong seniors and a burgeoning sophomore, Coach Carpenter feels that North Branford’s attack has been one of the team’s biggest strengths all season.

“Marra and Saldutti have played together forever. They know where each other are constantly on the field and work so well together off the ball,” Carpenter said. “Luke has an absolute cannon of a shot. Our attack is definitely the strong suit of our offense.”

North Branford finished its week with a home matchup against Haddam-Killingworth on May 5. T-Birds took the Cougars to double overtime and wound up losing a 6-5 decision to the defending Shoreline Conference champions. Junior captain Elias Defaranos had 2 goals with 1 assist in the contest. Saldutti, Palumbo, and Blomster all scored a goal. Brindisi made 12 saves for North Branford.

Despite the loss, Coach Carpenter felt that North Branford did a solid job in their contest versus the Cougars.

“We’re getting back on track. We played well against Cromwell. I thought we played our best game in our past eight against H-K,” said Carpenter. “We’re trying to limit our turnovers. We need to limit our risks and know when to take them depending on what’s going on in the game. The boys did a great job with that against H-K.”

As he looked for leadership on this year’s team, Carpenter waited until the second week of the preseason to select his captains. He was looking for players to step up and wanted to see who had grown as vocal leaders. When it came time to name captains, Saldutti, Marra, Defaranos and junior Eric Izzo were all nominated for the role.

When he was looking to see who displayed the traits that he wants in captain, Carpenter felt that Saldutti fit the bill to a T. Carpenter said that Saldutti is a great player who exemplifies everything that the North Branford boys’ lacrosse program needs from a leader.

Marra was one of the players who stood during the first week of the preseason. Carpenter said that Marra came out of his shell to become one of the biggest vocal leaders on the team.

The same could be said of Izzo, whom Carpenter calls one of the hardest workers on the squad. North Branford’s coach said that Izzo exudes passion for lacrosse and has a bright future in the sport.

Carpenter describes Defaranos as North Branford’s field general in the midfield. Carpenter went on to call the junior captain “Mr. Consistency” since the T-Birds always seem to know what they’re getting out of Defaranos. A lot of North Branford’s offense runs through Defaranos, and Carpenter said that he has a knack for settling the team down during tricky situations.

Joining Defaranos in the midfield are Kamienski and Palumbo. Kamienski serves as the team’s long-stick midfielder, allowing Defaranos to play his role as “field general.” Coach Carpenter said that Kamienski is showing great quick twitch skills this season. Regarding Palumbo, Carpenter called the senior a good dodger who can score with the ball and is proving a great complement to his midfield teammates.

Throughout its entire offense, North Branford is focused on controlling the tempo of the game. While the Thunderbirds like to play fast, this year’s team has learned how to slow the pace. As long as they’re controlling that tempo, Carpenter believes the T-Birds will be in a good position for a win every time they play.

“We love to dictate the tempo of a game. We like to play fast. We want opposing teams to play the type of lacrosse we want to play,” Carpenter said. “If we need to speed it up, we’ll speed it up. If we need to slow it down, we’ve done a good job of slowing it down. It’s all about pace and tempo and being in charge of that throughout the game.”

On defense, North Branford is starting juniors David D’Onofrio and Tyler Serenson, as well as a combination of juniors Dylan Burwell and Benjamin Taylor. Behind them is Brindisi, the Thunderbirds’ starting goaltender. Heading into the season, Coach Carpenter wanted Brindisi to raise his save percentage to somewhere between 55 and 65 percent, and Brindisi has responded by stopping shots at a 66-percent clip thus far this spring. Carpenter said that Brindisi is crucial to North Branford’s success and that his work in net has kept the team in numerous close games.

“There have been a ton of games where he has kept us in and kept it close,” said Carpenter of Brindisi. “He is the backbone of our defense and has played lights out this year.”

One win away from reaching the postseason, North Branford is looking to prove that it can compete against some of the best teams in the state this year. Regardless of how far they go, Coach Carpenter knows that the Thunderbirds are locked in and ready to grind it out until the final whistle blows.

“We’re hard-nosed. We’re going to leave everything on the field,” Carpenter said. “They’re never going to lose a game due to lack of effort. They’re going to play until they have nothing left in the tank. Effort and tempo is our game. We get the ball on offense, we’re going to the goal. We don’t want to sit back. We like to play fast.”

The North Branford boys’ lacrosse team’s roster features senior captains Jake Saldutti and Joey Marra; senior Jake Palumbo; junior captains Elias Defaranos and Eric Izzo; juniors Jace Kamienski, Nathan Tranquilli, David D’Onofrio, Dominick Langello, Mason Provencher, Tyler Serenson, Charlie Johnson, Ian Kamienski, Benjamin Taylor, Dragon Brindisi, and Dylan Burwell; sophomores Brady Martinik, Joseph Carofano, Connor Stoner, Luke Blomster, Patrick LeBeau, Nicholas Cassella, Lucas Vollono, Jack Maley, Joseph Jacobs, and Braden Burns; and freshmen Michael Gualtieri, Tanner Izzo, Shane Esposito, Gregory Galasso, and Jeremy Meneo.

Junior goalie Dradon Brindisi came up with six saves to help the Thunderbirds earn an 11-4 victory in Cromwell last week and them made 12 saves in their close contest against Haddam-Killingworth. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound