Bears’ run comes to an end in Class M final
Hartford — Mario Costa played for the Stonington High School boys’ soccer team under head coach Pat McCarney. Costa then served as an assistant coach on two state championship teams for head coach Paul deCastro, before taking over as head coach himself.
This season, Costa’s second leading the Bears, his team captain was senior defender Jackson McCarney, the son of his former coach.
And the unbroken thread of brown and white lineage continued all the way to Sunday’s Class M state championship against Lewis Mills.
“Pat actually coached me in high school,” said Costa, who was an All-New England selection and captain for the Bears. “He coached me and now I’m coaching his son. It’s amazing. That’s why you do it. That’s why you love the game so much.”
No. 14 Lewis Mills defeated No. 17 Stonington 5-2 at Trinity Health Stadium to claim the championship, erasing a 2-1 halftime lead for Stonington. Aleksander Swider was the Most Valuable Player of the game, with a goal and three assists for Mills (13-5-3).
But Stonington’s trip to the finals, which included four consecutive games on the road to get to the final, was a source of pride for Costa. The Bears recorded three straight shutouts, 3-0 over No. 16 Woodland, 3-0 over No. 1 Norwich Tech and 3-0 over No. 9 Northwestern, before a 3-2 victory over RHAM in penalty kicks in the semifinals.
Stonington (13-9) was trying to add a fourth state championship to its record book following titles in 1993 (co-champions with RHAM), 2019 and 2021.
“At the end of the day, we’re still a young team,” Costa said. “It’s nice to see that we can send our seniors off on such a high note; getting here and being unexpected to get here, it was nice.
“This run was the first time I’ve seen passion come out of these boys like that group (that won the title in 2021) had, like that Sam (Montalto) group with all that passion. ... (This team) won the first game (of the tournament), the second game, they started believing. They were like, ‘Wait a second, we’re the Bears. We belong here.’”
The Bears trailed 1-0 9 minutes, 43 seconds into the game when Swider delivered a corner kick from the left side to the front of the goal for Hayden Melingonis, who scored.
Stonington hit the post less than a minute later, but continued to pressure the Spartans for the remainder of the half.
The Bears tied it 1-1 at the 11:07 mark on a play started by a free kick by Jace Wolfradt, appearing as if it was shot out of a cannon, that traveled about 65 yards before landing directly at the feet of Sal Alessio. Alessio found Landon Pelletier on the left side of the goal and he delivered the ball to the opposite corner of the net.
A short time later, Stonington junior Chase Donnarummo, who was not square with the goal, scored from about 30 yards out for a 2-1 lead.
Lewis Mills, though, didn’t waste any time taking control in the second half. The Spartans were awarded a penalty kick 1:41 in and Swider scored to even things at 2. Little more than three minutes later, Alex Begert fired a shot for Mills that deflected into the goal off a defender for a 3-2 lead.
The Spartans added goals from Roberto Rubbo and Elias Pavelchak, both assisted by Swider.
“It was hard not to give up in that moment,” Jackson McCarney said. “I’m really proud of all the boys. We didn’t really drop our heads. We kept trying to get the third goal. They came out firing in the second half.”
McCarney is one of four seniors who played their final game for the Bears, joining Henry Sawin, Sawyer VanLew and Diego Loyola.
McCarney was a sophomore on the team the last time Stonington won the title and was on the sideline that day.
“It kinda sucks that we lost because no one likes losing,” McCarney said of Sunday’s game. “But it was really nice to see all the boys come together. In the middle of the season, we were kind of all negative and we weren’t really acting as a team and we all came together and talked about what was going wrong and all the problems.
“We kind of turned the season around and became more like a family. I’m really gonna miss all these guys when I leave. In midseason we were in a tough spot. I feel like we became a bunch of brothers.”
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