Nathan Manchester and Matt Calabrese propel Raiders into NVL finals. PK's rule the night.
WATERBURY: Some love it, some not so much.
To have any soccer game this time of the year come down to something that never decides a regular season game is both thrilling and nerve wracking, depended on your point of view and the eventual outcome.
It’s the penalty shot debate and on Monday night in the semi-finals of the Naugatuck Valley League Championship, the Torrington Raiders were just a shot better (7-6) than the Seymour Wildcats and as a result will move on to play in Wednesday night’s championship game against top ranked Naugatuck in the meeting everybody wanted to see when the tournament began.
The Greyhounds got by Watertown by a 1-0 score in the second game Monday night.
Matt Calabrese scored the decisive goal after teammate Nathan Manchester had saved his counterpart, Wildcat goal keep Peter Pagaini on the nineteenth shot of the two-round shoot out.
No team spends much time on PK’s during the regular season. Why would one when they are never used but this time of the year, squads look to get a little time in just in case.
In the case of the Raiders and Manchester, the hard work the junior standout has put in with his goalie coach, Jason Apruzzies paid off in a big way.
“Nathan may just be the best athlete we have on the team,” Apruzzies said, “He’s still raw but for someone who has been playing goal for less than two years, he’s a beast.”
In the first round of ten, each team took turns finding the back of the net the first seven tries until Raider senior Amar Suljic hit a blast off the cross bar, giving the Wildcats a huge opportunity to take the match.
On the ninth shot of the round though, Manchester picked up his teammate by coming up with his first save off a blast by Chris Fitzgerald that gave Torrington life. Kevin Vaca tied things back up at four on his try, sending the teams to another round of ten.
With the teams tied at six and Seymour coming to the penalty stripe, the Wildcats elected to utilize Pagaini as their tenth shooter.
Pagaini went to his right with the shot, Manchester went with him and came up with his most important save of his young goalie career.
That set the stage for Calabrese who stepped to the line to either win it or send things to another 10 shots.
Asked how he felt making that long run from midfield to the stripe, Calabrese explained.
“I wasn’t really calm at all,” Calabrese said, “I was just trying to hide my nerves the best I could.”
Calabrese went up high to the left side of the goal and the celebration was on.
This game marked the third time these two teams had met this year and coming in, head coach Mike Fritch Jr. had known it’s never easy to beat a team three times in a season.
The Wildcats had been dealing with issues of their own after collecting four cards (three yellow, one red) in their 1-0 win on Saturday. As a consequence, Seymour was ruled ineligible for the State Tournament due to accumulating too many cards along the way this year.
Several starters were missing from the game as head coach Joe Perrucci had dealt with the issue himself by benching the players for their infractions.
Still, the Wildcats did a tremendous job of adjusting their game to frustrate the Raiders along the way.
“They moved everybody back and packed it in during the first half,” Fritch said, “Give them credit, they did some things that made it hard for us.”
To make matters tougher for the number two seed, midfielder Alex Church went down with a leg injury four minutes in and did not return to play.
“Losing Alex that early really hurt us,” Fritch said, “We had to put players in positions they hadn’t played all season.”
Suljic was moved back to the middle of the field, leaving Vaca up front with different wingers and the offense struggled.
After a scoreless 90-minutes, it was Seymour who almost broke through 30-seconds into the first of two 10-minute overtimes on a near miss on a header.
You just started to have a feeling this one was going to come down to PK’s and with the help of a junior goal keep who is playing well beyond his years, the Raiders punched their ticket to a third meeting with their top rival, the Greyhounds.
The teams have played two terrific games this year. Naugatuck won the first meeting by a 2-0 score before the teams played an epic 1-1 tie in a game that propelled the Raiders to a streak in which they have not lost a game in their last ten (9-0-1).
If that happens again on Wednesday night during the NVL finals, it’ll be back to the PK’s, this time for the title.
Should be a great one.