Ellington boys end Stonington's soccer season on penalty kicks

Stonington — Stonington lost its first game of the season Saturday.

It wasn’t just an average loss, either. The Bears lost in agonizing, gnash-your-teeth-and-scream form to Ellington 2-1 (3-1 on penalty kicks) in the quarterfinals of the CIAC Class M boys' soccer tournament.

Yet minutes after a brutal loss, Stonington senior Adam Gibbs smiled, laughed and took a macro view of the season rather than dwelling on the heartbreak.

“It’s sad it’s the end of it all, but you can’t focus on that,” Gibbs said. “We’ve done so much for this program and everything has been so great. These are some of my best friends. I’ve been playing with them since U8 soccer.”

The third-seeded Bears finished 19-1-1, winning Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II and ECC tournament championships.

“It’s just the best feeling, these four years, watching everyone grow up and seeing the next generation of players come up,” Gibbs said. "It’s amazing. Shane Smith hurt his ankle with about four minutes to go in the game, and he was still sprinting around for the next 25 minutes. Toughest guy out there. Will Hardy, Jamison Magowan, injured two days ago. Could hardly walk. And they’re out there fighting for everyone.

“Everyone is in tears over there because this is one of the best moments of our lives, this season. It just hurts to let it go, but you can’t focus on the bad.”

The sixth-seeded Knights will play No. 2 Lewis Mills, a 2-0 winner over No. 7 Haddam-Killingworth, in the semifinals on Wednesday night at 6 at Willow Brook Park in New Britain.

Ellington has won three Class M titles since 2003 and played for the title three other times.

Stonington had set itself up for a storybook finish by scoring late in regulation to force overtime. Magowan, a junior, scored with one minute, 5 seconds left with sophomore Tyler Fidrych getting the assist.

“That’s what makes soccer so great,” Bears head coach Paul deCastro said. “We’re down to the last minute and we score an amazing goal to tie it 1-1. We feel like we’re going to win in overtime or PKs. It’s a cruel way to lose.”

Ellington junior keeper Mitchell Desrocher literally saved the game for his team. He made a save after Smith scored on Stonington’s first penalty kick. He made another save on the Bears’ fourth attempt after their third hit the crossbar.

“They were fine,” Desrocher said about his nerves. “I was more nervous for those guys. I mean, we’re (goalies) not supposed to save it, so anything we do is above-and-beyond.”

Desrocher and Gibbs each finished with six saves. Sophomore Ryan Zahner, who scored four minutes into the second half for the Knights, kicked the game-winner.

“(Stonington) was not very good,” Gibbs said about where the program was when he and the senior class were freshman. “I remember sitting on the bench at Poquonnock Plains, watching our team. We needed to win that game to make the tournament and we lost, 1-0, to Fitch. They scored with about five minutes left and we missed the state tournament.”

The Bears finished 5-10-1 that season.

“I think we won eight games (during the regular season) my sophomore year and (9-5-2) last year during the regular season," Gibbs said. “Then 15-0-1 (in the regular season) this year. The progression, being able to watch our players grow up, is amazing.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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