Lewis Mills boys battle to the end in semifinal loss to Tolland
Lewis Mills soccer coach Ben Kulas consoles goalie Ben Lewis after Wednesday night's Class M semifinals loss to Tolland in a game decided by penalty kicks.
FARMINGTON - The goal was to just get a shot, just get on the field for a state championship and then let the chips fall where they may. Maybe some day the Lewis Mills boys soccer team will get to cash in, just not this year.
A game marked by end to end action and questionable officiating saw the Spartans play valiantly with 10 men for the end of regulation and over time before falling to Tolland, 1-0, in penalty kicks (4-2) in a Class M semifinal matchup Wednesday night at Tunxis Mead.
The loss was the first of the season for the top-seeded Spartans, who finish the season at 17-1-1. Lewis Mills lost in the semifinals for the second time in the last four seasons and is still in search of its first state final since 2000 and first title since 1997.
Mills coach Ben Kulas talked all season about the goal, get to the final. If that happened then you could live with the result, you would at least have a chance. Along the way the Spartans dominated the Berkshire League, allowing just two goals all year, and only Nonnewaug, a Class M semifinalist itself, offered any resistance, tying Mills once and playing a tight 1-0 game later in the season.
The Spartans earned the number one seed and then exorcised its tournament demon, knocking off Ellington, 1-0, in the second round. Ellington had knocked off Mills in each of the last two tournaments and went on to win last year's state title. A weight was lifted with that Spartans victory and they went on and thoroughly outclassed Stonington in the quarterfinals.
Mills generated chances and played the final 23:45 without one of its top offensive playmakers in senior Freddy Marinelli, who drew a pair of dubious at best yellow cards and was shown a red card with 3:45 left in regulation. The Spartans weathered the storm and got the game into OT and looked to be the more dangerous side, keeping Tolland's chances to a minimum and attacking despite being down a man. Mills even put one in the back of the net, scoring with 4:12 left in overtime only to have it waved off by the line judge for offsides.
The game then went to penalties and Tolland survived.
Geoffrey Gelorme opened penalty kicks for the Spartans by converting to the right corner and Joe Fortuna followed and converted Mills' second penalty kick. Tolland matched Mills by converting its first two penalties.
Jimmy Wilcox and Alex Pearson were the next two Spartans shooters and both had their kicks saved by Tolland goalie Kyle Boutot. Both Wilcox and Pearson hit well struck shots only to have Boutot guess right, diving to his left to deflect Wilcox's effort and leaping to his right to knock away Pearson's attempt.
Mike Zimmerman scored after the save on Wilcox to put Tolland ahead 3-2 and Thomas Leahy converted just past diving Mills keeper Ben Lewis to send Tolland to the finals, where they will meet Bacon Academy, which knocked out Nonnewaug, 2-1, in overtime in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
"I told Ben not to be upset, what can you do. Once it comes down to penalties its a coin toss," Kulas said. "He was phenomenal for us tonight. If it wasn't for him and how he played we wouldn't have even been in penalty kicks."
Just getting to penalty kicks was an accomplishment considering the Spartans were a man down for nearly 24 minutes and almost won the game in overtime. A rush down the right side led to a cross that was banged home after a scramble in front but yet another call went against Mills and the goal was waved off.
"We had to survive and we did, we got a goal and it was called back. We collected ourselves and wanted to play better and we did, even when we had 10 men," Kulas said. "The guys didn't play down at all, they played great, you would have thought we had 11 guys the way things went. You have to give the players credit for playing that way with their backs against the wall."
Kulas was reluctant to go into much detail on his thoughts of the officiating but his frustration was obvious, both with the loss and with not having one of his best offensive weapons on the field for over 20 minutes.
"I think it was ridiculous in a state semifinal to give a player two soft yellows," Kulas said. "He's never had a yellow and we only had one yellow card in 17 games and he throws us three in one night. It's ludicrous."
It was a tough loss to digest in the immediate aftermath, having come so close to the title game and losing without allowing a goal in the run of play. And despite being hot about the loss and the officiating, Kulas did realize he and his team had just been through a special season.
"I'm proud of the guys and the worst part is I won't see them all again as a group," Kulas said. "We fell a little short of our goal of getting to the final but it was a great year, great times. I have nothing but love for these guys."