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Litchfield Boys and Girls in Class S State Soccer Finals.
This story brought to you by: Hanq's
FALCON FIELD, MERIDEN: Unbelievable, speechless and stunned.
That could sum up the feelings both Litchfield soccer coaches had after watching their respective teams make it to the promise land: the Class S State finals.
One team, the Cowboy girls, did it after battling for 99:51 before scoring the only goal in a 1-0, double overtime thriller over Old Saybrook.
The other, the Cowboy boys, scored with just over three minutes gone in the game and then held on through an offensive assault that threatened to blow the game right open in a 1-0 win over Valley Regional.
At the end of five grueling hours of soccer though, history was made.
Litchfield will have two teams fighting for a State Championship next Friday or Saturday at a place and time to be determined.
The girls (# 7, 12-4-2) will face off against # 5 Immaculate (13-3-2) while the boys (# 14 11-6-2) will tackle # 4 Somers (16-3-0).
At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter who either team plays, there is something special brewing in Litchfield.
That was clearly evident on Saturday afternoon that ran into evening.
In the opener, the ladies took on a team that mirrored them. The Rams came in ranked # 6 with a 10-4-2 record while Cowboys posted a 9-4-2 record during the regular season.
Both teams were fast and aggressive early, each missed on chances near the net before settling in for a long afternoon of back and forth play.
Junior Bri Hanley of Old Saybrook had speed and was a threat every time she touched the ball, as was Isabelle Binstadt for Litchfield.
Falcon Field is a beautiful complex with a turf field but it was also wide, Nonnewaug wide and fast.
This was to be a game played at a fast pace and whichever team could keep their legs seemed to have the better chance.
After 80 minutes, nothing. Two ten-minute overtimes came next and the first one came and went just like regulation; scoreless.
The second ten minutes seemed destined to flow into a penalty kick contest, something both teams wanted to avoid.
With PK’s looming, Binstadt, who had several chances to find the back of the net during regulation, took a pass from junior Emily Andrulis down the left side.
“I didn’t know how much time was left.” a happy Binstadt said after the game. “I just didn’t want to go to penalty kicks so I tried to get a shot off.”
Using one last burst of speed to get by a Rams defender, Binstadt broke in on goalie Mia Neas and snuck the game winner into the left corner with :09 showing on the clock.
Junior goalie Kelly Lewis was sensational in the nets for the Cowboys, stopping several dead on shots during the second half.
This was certainly a team effort and one for the books and these girls knew it.
“This is history for Litchfield High School.” Binstadt said. “We had never even made the semi-finals before so this is unbelievable.”
Being in this position for the first time can be intimidating for some teams and the girls head coach thought they adjusted as the game ore on.
“We relaxed, especially in OT.” Brian Mongeau said. “We were a little tense early on but then we started to make better passes on our attacks.”
Tense could describe the second game and be an understatement to some.
# 2 Valley Regional came tied for the top spot in Class S with East Hampton with a 15-1-1 regular season mark.
The Cowboys under head coach Rob Andrulis had posted a somewhat pedestrian 7-6-2 regular season record.
Wins over # 19 Wamogo (3-1), # 3 Old Lyme (2-1) and # 6 East Granby (4-2) had put the Cowboys in this spot at this time.
Sometimes in the post season, teams just find something, get on a roll and never look back.
That seems to fit the bill with these Cowboys who found the back of the net early in their match up with the Warriors.
3:01 gone in the game, the Cowboys went on the offensive. Junior Sander Finn had possession and was flying down the middle of the field were he sent a pass to senior Kyle Murphy who kept his composure and found the left side of the Warriors net for a fast 1-0 lead.
Stunned, the Warriors cranked up the offensive pressure to a level most teams would eventually crack under.
Chance after chance went by the board for Valley, several shots missing by the width of the ball.
Cross bars were hit, posted dinged and even football goal post weren’t save against the wrath of the Warriors offense.
But nothing went in.
Just before the half, senior defender Quinlan McCarthy went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury.
This forced Andrulis to switch things up in the second half and put a dent in the Cowboys offense with senior Nick Hula now back in the sweeper position instead of up front supplying the offensive pressure.
“We just had to pack it in on the defensive end during the second half.” Andrulis said. “We told them to dig deep and find something which is exactly what they did.”
It didn’t take the Warriors long to get their attack back in high gear in the second half, in fact over 90 percent of the action was in the Litchfield end.
Hero after hero emerged for the Cowboys though as they stopped chance after chance after chance as the clock ticked off precious seconds that seemed to take an eternity.
“I told my assistant coach I couldn’t look at the clock anymore.” Andrulis said. “It was driving me crazy.”
Valley threw everything including the kitchen sink and their goalie at the Cowboys as the minutes ran off but a comment Andrulis made to Mongeau was coming true.
“I congratulated him after he won and told him we would go out and punch our ticket to the finals next.” Andrulis said. “This is unbelievable. Brian and I used to talk about getting to the finals when he was my assistant coach so to see this come true is incredible.”
Senior Andrew Gauvain was asked how this happened, was it talent or something else?
“What we have been doing has nothing to do with talent on the field.” Gauvain said. “It has to do with the character of our team and how much we wanted to do this for our school and our town. This was about our heart and our soul.”
Two unlikely teams have made it to the place all coaches talk about when they start practices in late August.
Who’s going to bet against either of these two teams who may just have that destiny bug which sometimes proves real hard to put away.