BY KEN MORSE
Heading into the final week of the boys soccer season, teams were in battle mode with several spots up for grabs to qualify for the NVL tournament.
Oxford, Holy Cross and Woodland all found themselves at the top.
The final five sports was a mix-master of teams all with the same goal of reaching the postseason. Seymour, Naugatuck, Torrington were at the top of that list with WCA, St. Paul, Wolcott and Watertown making a push to claim a spot as well.
The Greyhounds were sitting at a very confident 6-1-1 mark when the tides turned rather rapidly. A 1-0 loss to Woodland on a late penalty kick started the slide. A 1-1 tie to Watertown on Oct. 11 didn’t help matters and a devastating 2-0 loss to Torrington on Oct. 14 caused the alarm to go off.
By that time they were facing undefeated Oxford on Oct. 15 and came away shaken in a 7-1 loss. Suddenly the Hounds were looking at a 6-4-2 mark with two crucial games left against Ansonia and Wolcott that were fighting the same battle.
“Watertown was a winnable game,” said Naugatuck coach Jose Sendra. “We let it slip through our fingers. Oxford, they’re just a machine. They have a bunch of good players. They have a solid squad and will be the team to beat.”
Naugy helped its cause, earning a 4-0 win over Ansonia on Oct. 17. Ash Rajkumar, Vinny Dos Santos, Aiden Cruz and Elliot Farias tallied goals for the Greyhounds and Dan Anderson stopped two shots on goal for the shutout.
The Hounds faced off against Holy Cross on Oct. 19 and held their own before falling short by a 2-1 margin. Matt Kilburn scored the only goal for Naugy with Dos Santos lending the assist. Naugy was scheduled to close out the regular season against Wolcott.
“We are at the point in the season it’s anyone’s game,” added Sendra. “Anything can happen once the tournament starts. This hasn’t been our strongest year. I’m just trying to get the boys in the mindset that anything is possible.”
The Hawks have continued to stay near the top of the heap on the strength of six straight wins, including five straight shutouts. As the season winds down the games are not getting any easier. The Hawks escaped with a 2-0 win over then one-loss Crosby on Oct. 14. Tanner Barrows and Matt Villano scored goals with Alex Donskoy and Liam Muricchio adding assists.
On Oct. 18, they shut down WCA by a 3-0 margin. Brayden Raudenbush made six saves in the net for the Hawks. Matt Villano, Kimani Clovis and Tanner Barrows sent balls to the back of the net to pace the Woodland attack.
“Defense had really been the name of the game for us this season,” said Woodland head coach Kenan Collins. “Brayden (Raudenbush) and Connor Cull have both come up with shutout efforts in goal for us during our recent run. Regardless of who I put between the sticks I know I’m going to get a solid job. Our two center backs Evan Polonio and John Sizer have played a consistent 80 minutes a game. There is a lot of wear and tear at that position but they do it with a smile on their face and they are very good at what they do. Liam Muricchio is another one back there that is solid.”
Collins continued: “We just need to play our game. There have been a few times where we have let ourselves down and not walked away with the result we should have had. You need to play the full 80 minutes and not take your foot off the pedal in the final few minutes.”
Both Naugy and Woodland reached the semifinals last season, but it will take some doing to get back there for a chance to play for the NVL title.
BY KEN MORSE