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You can’t say they’re underdogs and you can’t say they’re a rebuilding team, but you can say they’re Shoreline Conference champions, and for the third straight season. The Valley Regional boys’ soccer team, which entered the Shoreline Tournament as the third seed, upset top-seeded Old Saybrook 2-0 in the final at Indian River Complex in Clinton on the balmy night of Nov. 1 on a pair of late-game goals from juniors DJ Berardis and Kevin Cole, as well as help from stifling defense throughout the contest.
“It was such a back and forth game, both teams wanted it so bad, but I just wanted that goal so bad. I remember last year playing in the game when they ended our state tournament run and I was thinking about that since the season started this year,” said Berardis. “Everyone was calling us a rebuilding year; it was an insult. We knew we were a good team from the beginning, we knew we were going to turn some heads. This is an unbelievable season that isn’t over and we couldn’t have done it without each other, it was a great team win.”
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.
“I think we were talking a lot about how well we played defensively, that was a big part. Saybrook’s such an offensive team that we managed to limit them to little chances,” said Coach Mick Fearon, whose squad defeated second-seeded Cromwell 4-3 in the semifinal on Oct. 30. “In the first half, Michael [Castelli] kept us in the game. The players that played in the back played really well. You have to score goals to win, and as long as we didn’t give them a goal, there was no way we could lose the game.”
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 again. 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 thing was that people are saying it’s a three-peat. Each year it’s a different team—it might be a nucleus of the same players, but it’s a different team each year,” said Fearon. “We only had four players that had minutes last year, but the rest improved and stepped up this year. Nate Gagnon marked possible one of the best players in the state in Danny Murphy and did a very good job on him today. Saybrook is quick up front and we neutralized that a bit.”
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 keeper made a save, the ball rolled, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m getting to that ball first.’ And I got to it and poked it in,” said Berardis.
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.
“We wanted to prove that we aren’t a rebuilding team—we lost some guys, but we have players who wanted to step into roles and take charge,” said Matt Cole. “I think we really proved tonight that we aren’t a rebuilding team and we’ll make a run for a state title. I’m blessed to play for Mick and to have won this three years in a row, it’s been an experience and it’s been awesome.”