WATERBURY — The Greyhounds advanced to the Naugatuck Valley League championship game following a real heart-stopper at Municipal Stadium Tuesday night. Naugatuck defeated a very tough Sacred Heart squad, 2-1 (7-5), on penalty kicks.
The win sets up an all-Naugy NVL soccer championship night on Thursday at Municipal Stadium, when the boys take on Watertown at 5 p.m. and the girls’ Torrington at 7 p.m.
In the opener of the boys’ semifinals on Tuesday, Watertown pulled out an edge-of-your-seat, 2-1 (3-1) win over Torrington, also winning on PKs. That served as a preview for the nightcap, which pitted the defending champion Hounds against a surprising Sacred Heart team that knocked off perennial powerhouse Seymour in the quarterfinals.
The Greyhounds had numerous chances early, but Hearts goalkeeper Jake Martin was up for the challenge. Naugatuck had five corner opportunities before the Hearts had their first of the game, with 18:21 left in the first half.
Riker Mitchell, Nolan Kinne and Marcos Soares served as the first line of defense for the Garnet and Grey, with Augusto Clari and Wilson Lima guarding the net in front of keeper Donato Piroscafo.
The midfield of Ralph Roper, Richard Mitchell and Manny Nobre were winning their share of 50-50 balls, setting up the attack to forwards Marcos Soares and Tiago Martins.
Finally, with 15:38 to go in the half, Kinne dumped off a pass to Martins in the corner. Martins side-stepped a defender and fired a shot to the far post that eluded the Sacred Heart keeper for a 1-0 Naugatuck advantage.
The Greyhounds kept up the pressure but couldn’t control the action in close, as the pesky Hearts defense was winning the battle. Naugatuck came out in the second half looking for an insurance goal, but after a three-shot succession, it remained 1-0 with 21:25 left in the game.
Minutes later, the Hearts received the bounce they were looking for, as Steven Vedral hopped one over the top of Piroscafo, who came out to defend. Sacred Heart was setting up its attack in front of the Naugatuck goal with 19:58 to play. Vedral booted a ball from 20 yards out, into the box. Piroscafo charged out to take the shot away but it took a high bounce and snuck behind him to tie the game at 1-1.
That gave the Hearts new life, and they held off a furious Naugatuck attack in the game’s final minutes to send this game to overtime. The two teams battled through two 10-minute, scoreless overtime sessions, and this game was going to be decided by penalty kicks.
After Martins missed the first shot for Naugatuck, the Greyhounds hung in there with Kinne, Lima, Clari and Nobre sticking it between the pipes to make it a 4-4 tie.
It was on to the second round of penalty kicks, and Piroscafo set up the winning scenario by stopping three shots. After the senior keeper punched the last Sacred Heart shot up over the top of the crossbar, Soares lined up his game winner.
Riker Mitchell gave Naugatuck a brief 5-4, lead and Ralph Roper broke the tie to make it 6-5 before Piroscafo made his valiant save. Soares put the ball down 10 yards out and ripped a shot just inside the post, leading a charge up field as the Greyhounds swarmed the pitch to celebrate a real heart-stopper at the Stadium.