WATERBURY — Focus! Focus, focus, focus. Focus, hocus, pocus. Hallelujah!
One Shelton fan among many rattled off consistently peculiar, idiosyncratic appeals to his beloved Gaels as Tiago Martins and the Naugatuck Greyhounds watched their Class LL state title dreams slip away.
Win the ball! Arf, arf! Win the ball with intentionality! Win it with originality!
Perhaps this older gentleman had a profound effect on the Gaels’ punchy play, or maybe the 19th-ranked squad had more spirit to spare, or maybe the Hounds just couldn’t find their turf legs. At any rate, Shelton outplayed the Naugatuck Valley League champs on a blustery, frigid evening at Municipal Stadium Thursday, tallying two goals to Naugy’s one.
Scoring were Shelton’s Linsley Barrett, off a corner kick in the 22nd minute, then Stephen Arena in the 33rd, off an assist from Barrett.
The Hounds just couldn’t punch through a stoic Shelton defense, and Naugatuck took a two-goal deficit to the bench.
The match intensified in the second half; the Hounds’ defense stepped up and shut down the Gaels on every ball, but Shelton matched them in defensive savvy, and Naugy eked out only one tally, in the 75th minute, by Manny Nobre, assisted by a very pretty through-ball from Nolan Kinnie.
You can’t be tired, no way! It’s only been 75 minutes, how can you be tired?!
It was an unfamiliar scene for the Garnet and Grey, who were 18-1-1 entering the contest, the lone loss coming at Pomperaug the day before the NVL title game, when the team’s starters played only 20 minutes. But among many hotly contested fouls, two yellow cards for Shelton’s Craig Beacham, and innumerable valiant, physical offensive plays by Nobre, Martins and company, the Greyhounds watched as the match dwindled and minutes turned to seconds.
The final whistle was blown, and the Hounds, for only the second time all year, felt the bitter sting of defeat. The NVL flagbearers were eliminated from state contention, and the dejected squad filed onto its bus, limited to faraway hopes for better luck next season.
Head coach Art Nunes had high hopes for the team’s chances in the state tourney.
“We fully expected to go in and be able to neutralize [Shelton’s] strengths—speed and aggression,” he said. “We’re a more technical speed team, and when that clutching and grabbing was introduced and allowed … it was a tough physical game, and it could have went either way. We were down one goal with five minutes to go, and we dominated and kept pressing, but we just couldn’t get one to go through the posts.”
Nunes said the loss and elimination was disappointing, but overall, the Hounds had a great season.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome of that match, but I’m not disappointed in the effort put in … we had a tremendous season,” he said.
Though the Naugy squad will lose 11 seniors this year, Nunes expects the Hounds will have another strong season next fall.
“The caliber of our underclassmen is tremendous,” he said. “The mixture of upperclassmen and underclassmen [this season] was good, right around 50-50.”
Nunes expects forwards Marcos Soares and Tiago Martins to have big seasons. He’s also looking to midfielder Riker Mitchell, defenders Richard Mitchell and Nolan Kinne, and goalkeeper/defender Daniel Bronko to up the defensive ante.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” Nunes said. “We had high expectations [this season], but I think they fulfilled most of them. A state championship is not the only way to have a successful season.”