Stonington boys beat Ellington 1-0 to win Class M state soccer title

Hartford — Moments after setting up the Class M state championship-clinching goal Saturday morning, senior Tyler Fidrych sprinted toward the Stonington bench instead of joining the on-the-field celebration.

Fidrych wanted to share the special moment with his teammates on the Dillon Stadium sideline.

"It's not just about the guys on the field," Fidrych said. "There's guys that have been here year all year. It's been the longest ride. ... I just wanted to celebrate with everybody."

Fifteen minutes after sophomore Wynn Hammond scored on a well-placed header off a corner kick, the Bears finally could all celebrate the program's first outright boys' soccer title together after defeating top-seeded Ellington 1-0.

They shared their only other title in 1993 with RHAM.

It took a collective effort and commitment from the entire team, starting during the steamy summer training days through chilly November practices, to knock off previously unbeaten Ellington and accomplish their mission.

"It's something that we've been dreaming of since the beginning of the year," senior goalie Peter Fernholz said. "Since July we've been working for this. We had a date marked on our calendar, Nov. 23, We knew we had to get here. And when we got here, we knew we had to take our chances. ... It was one of the best team wins we've ever had."

This was uncharted territory for the No. 2 Bears, who set an ambitious goal at the beginning of the year to win a state title after reaching the semifinals in 2018. During the season, they wore practice shirts with the words "Our Turn" on the front.

Stonington, which hadn't played in a state final since 1994, had to shake off some early nerves. The Bears finally settled down in the second half and played their brand of disciplined soccer.

When the horn sounded, the first thing that coach Paul deCastro did was locate his son, Billy, a sophomore, and give him a hug.

"I think it shows the type of team that we are to win that type of game," deCastro said. "That wasn't easy. That was a very good Ellington team. You've got to give them a lot of credit. That was hard fought. We were lucky enough to score a goal there on a header and we held them off.

"We're proud of the group. ... It's a lot of pressure off my back and the kids' back. I think they knew that they had a lot of ability and we would be one of the top teams in M. But to win it, there's a lot of things that come into winning it. It just feels great.  You can tell how happy the kids are.

"We're thrilled."

There were very quality scoring opportunities by either team.

Stonington produced the lone moment of goal-scoring magic.

Fidrych's high cross off a corner kick sailed into a crowded box and found the head of Hammond, who guided the ball into the lower corner with 15 minutes, nine seconds remaining. It was only Hammond's second goal of the season.

"It felt amazing," said Hammond, who didn't expect the ball to come to him. "It was just a perfect ball."

The Stonington defense contained the Knights, who lost in the finals for the second straight season.

The Bears posted their fourth consecutive shutout of the tournament, outscoring their opponents 18-0. Senior defenders Rhys Hammond and Will Cannella played their best soccer during postseason, according to deCastro.

Also, credit Fernholz for keeping the Knights (19-1) off the scoreboard. He made a couple great saves and had some good luck in his side.

In the first half, a quick-reacting Fernholz knocked down James Maznicki's close range shot and the rebound bounced away to the far post. But an unmarked Ellington player missed the open goal.

"It's a game changer," Fernholz said. "They had a chance and they missed it. That was their one chance to capitalize and they didn't."

Fernholz also saved a low hard shot about halfway through the second half and then needed help from a teammate to clear the loose ball.

"Peter was a big part of why we won it," deCastro said. "He was really steady today and strong."

The Bears lingered on the field long after their victory. DeCastro soaked in every moment while watching his players celebrate. He talked about how much the Bears really "bought in" this season.

"That was a lot of fun," deCastro said.

Fidrych, the game's most valuable player, tried to sum up what it meant for the Bears to go undefeated (18-0-3), win the regular season and ECC tournament titles and then roll to a state championship.

"It's indescribable," Fidrych said. "I've been saying all season that we want the triple crown and we got it. It's unbelievable."

g.keefe@theday.com

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