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As the top seed in both the Shoreline Conference and Class S, the Old Saybrook boys’ soccer squad had a target on its back going into the Shoreline final on the balmy night of Nov. 1 at Indian River Complex in Clinton. Third-seeded Valley Regional proved that anything can happen in a game and hit the bulls eye on the Rams’ back, winning 2-0 on late-game goals and claiming its third straight championship despite talk of being the underdogs.
“I think we’ve got the curse, what has it been, 49 years?” said Saybrook Coach Sam Barnes, whose squad defeated Old Lyme 4-1 in the semifinal on Oct. 30. “I don’t why I would’ve thought anything different tonight; Valley outplayed us tonight. We played hard, I’m proud of my kids, but Valley played well and we dropped for them tonight, but they didn’t drop for us. We’ve come from behind several times, but it was just late in the game. There wasn’t a lot of time to recover—I’m thinking maybe we got tired, I’m not sure. ”
The first half was a game of chances and missed opportunities for both sides of the ball, but it was Old Saybrook that clearly dominated. The Rams amassed shot after shot in the first minutes on kicks from senior captain Dan Murphy and senior Zach Siniscalco, but Valley junior goalkeeper Mike Castelli (7 saves) shut the opponent down on every occasion. It wasn’t until the 28.5-minute mark when the Warriors had their first shot on goal after a Joe diTommasso throw-in landed at the feet of senior Luke Gagnon, who just missed the goal wide.
Rams’ senior captain Nate Corrado, Murphy, senior Axel Bryhn, and senior Jeff Nagy all combined for chances at the net, but Valley’s defense—led by senior Dan Caulfield and Berardis—squashed any opportunities Old Saybrook had to take the lead. Senior Jack Simoneau and senior captain Matt Cole earned shots on net for Valley around the 20-minute mark, but Saybrook senior keeper Mike Rose (5 saves) defended his territory before Murphy, junior Sam Henry, and Bryhn all took charge on offense and tested Castelli.
“It’s just a bummer. They played better than us, I just wish we could’ve gotten one, come out a little harder maybe,” said Murphy. “Our defense played great, so did our offense, we just couldn’t get the ball past their goalie. Being the top team [in the state] has its ups and downs, but we’re just going to go at them.”
After a solid defensive play in the box by junior DJ Berardis, Matt Cole earned a kick-in and lobbed the ball right at Rose to end the half with the score knotted at 0-0.
The second half of the contest belonged undoubtedly to Valley, which seemed to gain steam from its halftime break. After missing their first shot of the half when junior Brian Patterson passed the ball across the box to junior Ben Ferrucci and it ended up in the hands of Rose, the Warriors’ defense worked overtime when Saybrook earned a corner and Simoneau headed the ball out of the box to avoid an attempted goal by Siniscalco. Minutes later, Valley had the ball in front of the net and as players from both teams shuffled in front of the goal, Rose came out a little to try to pick up the ball and that’s when Matt Cole calmly kicked it across to Berardis, who placed it in the goal at the 18:41 mark.
The Warriors’ goal had a slight deflating effect on the Rams, as they seemed to slow down their pace and the ball remained on Valley’s side of the field. Valley then capitalized again at the 7:14 mark when Matt Cole took a kick from about 25 yards out that went right at Rose, who deflected the shot right back to Cole. Matt Cole then passed to Kevin Cole, who notched the insurance goal for Valley and eventually sealed its third championship in as many years.
“They did a good job of shutting down [Dan] Murphy tonight. I thought we had some better opportunities in the first half and they finished their opportunities in the second half and that was the difference,” said Barnes. “That’s what they do, they get the ball across, and whoever gets a foot on it, gets a foot on it. A couple of deflections, a mess in front of the goal, and they finish. We’re still No. 1 in the state and we’re going to refocus on that and maybe we’ll see Valley again.”