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The scoreboard may not indicate it, but the Guilford boys’ soccer team played with the heart of a champion.
The 6th-seeded Indians suffered a tough 2-1 loss to top-seeded Xavier in double overtime at the SCC Tournament final on Oct. 30 at East Haven through a goal 93 seconds into the second extra session. The game capped off a bracket run by Guilford that saw a 1-0 triumph at Hammonasset Division winner and No. 3 seed Hand on Oct. 26 in the quarterfinals before defeating Housatonic champion, No. 2 Amity, on penalty kicks after 100 minutes of soccer in the semifinals two days later. Even in defeat, the Indians have nothing to hang their heads low about.
“We played our hearts out. This was probably the best game we’ve played this year,” said senior captain Wyatt Vilaseca, whose squad played a combined 191 minutes between the semifinal and final tilts. “I thought we deserved this, because we played so hard the last five days in this tournament, and I thought we were ready for the whole thing.”
After a scoreless first half, Guilford (4 shots) trailed with a header score from junior Wesley Reid following a corner kick prior to the Indians evening the contest on a direct kick from sophomore Nick Bonelli to senior T.J. Williams. Coming up one tally short of the program’s seventh league crown, Head Coach Joe Maher couldn’t have asked for any more effort.
“They were spectacular in these SCC games, and tonight was the culmination of the effort they have displayed for the past week,” said Maher, who guided the Indians to their 10th SCC Championship Game. “The luckier team won tonight, but that’s what it takes to win the title; you have to be good and also lucky.”
Xavier (15-0-4) started out with plenty of offensive pressure until Guilford (11-6-2) answered back with a strong breakaway attempt by sophomore Stephen Page about three minutes into the matchup.
Senior netminder Nate Wilson (3 saves) and the Indians’ defensive unit took on plenty of strong chances by the Falcons around and in the Guilford box. Both sides continued to try for the initial tally, yet neither could send it home in a defensive first half with plenty of contact.
“I think in the first half, we came out, got the jitters out of us, and went forward from there,” said Maher. “Defensively, we talked about needing to know where our man was, and the facts that we couldn’t watch the ball while also helping each other out in the double team.”
The Indians began the second half as the offensive aggressors with misses on a free and corner kick in the frame’s opening four minutes, but the Falcons (12 shots) were granted a corner and capitalized at the 36:12 juncture to go ahead, 1-0.
“That’s been one of our weaknesses this year with winning defensive headers in the box,” said Maher. “We are a smaller team, so we struggle in that department against the bigger teams like Xavier.”
Guilford did respond, though, as senior Noah Elemleki almost nailed the equalizer four minutes later when he had only a Falcons’ defender to beat facing the net, but was taken away from the shot.
The stabs by Guilford finally came to fruition with 15:41 left in regulation when Bonelli kicked the ball from the 20-yard line to Williams, who finished the equalizer after beating the leaping goaltender by a split-second before overtime was needed.
The Falcons did grab the first shot of the opening extra session and, although both clubs were driving downfield, neither could grab the title-sealing score, so another period ensued.
The second overtime ended as quickly as it began with Falcons’ junior Brendan Cutuli shooting the ball from the right midfield into the opposite end of the net to give Xavier the crown.
On Oct. 28, Guilford defeated No. 2 seed Amity on penalty kicks, 4-2, in the semifinal round.
Amity got on the board first for a 1-0 halftime edge. In the second half, Guilford finally got on the board to tie the game with 29 minutes remaining on a cross from junior captain Noah Rattet, which made its way towards freshman Sean Miller before it deflected off of Spartans’ player on the goal line. After two 10-minute overtime periods, the contest went to penalty kicks, where Guilford made the first pair, missed the third, and converted on the fourth and fifth with junior Sawyer Geelan's game-clinching score.
The Indians still remain upbeat for the Class LL State Tournament, which begins on Tuesday, Nov. 5, based on how they fared against the SCC’s top three squads.
“The confidence is still high,” Maher said. “We talked to the kids and told them that if they give this kind of an effort, then we will be a tough out in the LL tournament.”
Vilaseca added that Guilford’s focus on a state title is no laughing matter.
“We have shown a lot to other teams that we aren’t here to joke around,” said Vilaseca. “We are here to stay and to win.”