Old Saybrook ends Cowboys' ride
MERIDEN – There are no secrets when you get to the state tournament semifinals. If you don’t know who the other team’s studs are and their style, you aren’t getting it done. Old Saybrook knew all about Litchfield and its horses namely Timmy Donovan, Charlie Shanks and goalie Coleby Bunnell.
But here’s what separated the Rams from virtually every Litchfield opponent this season. They were able to neutralize the trio and end the Cowboys’ season, 2-0, in the Class S boys semifinals at Arctic-like Falcon Field.
The co-Berkshire League champion and No. 2 Cowboys finished their season with a 15-3-1 mark while No. 6 Old Saybrook (13-3-3) move on to face Shoreline foe and defending champion Morgan in the championship game Saturday, a team they split with during the regular season.
“(Old Saybrook) is a team that is solid back and front and has the power to dominate every night,” credited Shanks.
Litchfield played the Rams even in the second half but by that time the damage had been done. Utilizing a speedy attack and taking advantage of two Litchfield mistakes, they opened up a 2-0 lead by the half and that was more than enough.
At the 16:24 mark, Padraig Ryan picked up a loose ball that wasn’t cleared near the Litchfield goal and peppered a shot past Bunnell for a 1-0 lead. The Rams got artistic on the second goal.
Ben O’Dell place a free kick from 40-yards out right on the waiting head of Enes Cecunjanin who promptly guided it into the net with just 14.1 seconds to go in the half changing the complexion of the game. One goal was reachable. A two-goal deficit was a stretch for Litchfield in the frigid atmosphere.
“Two defensive errors cost us,” mused Litchfield coach Rob Andrulis. “If we clear the first goal out maybe we get it done.
If the margin seemed discouraging, Old Saybrook’s defense was even more so. Litchfield managed one shot in the first half and that came with two minutes remaining. There were few of the efficient and devastating passes from Shanks to Donovan that ruined so many opponents this season.
When Donovan did get the ball he had more people on him than Eli Manning.
“They sat back a lot more than we are used to and that gave me and Charlie more space,” said Donovan. “But that allowed them to put five guys on us when we got the ball in.”
“When we got the ball to Tim and Charlie, they just collapsed on them,’ added Andrulis. “It was almost like they were playing a box-on-one on Tim with a guy on him and a bunch around him.”
Old Saybrook knew what it had to do and did it well at both ends.
“We knew we had to shut down Donovan and Shanks, attack the end line and beat the keeper,” said Old Saybrook coach Sam Barnes. “Keep the ball out of their possession and beat the keeper. We knew how good (Bunnell) was. He only gave up 11 goals all season. He was a challenge.’
Litchfield evened play out in the second half but had few real good scoring opportunities. Midway through the half they had several corner kicks but nothing of serious nature came about. The Cowboys got outshot, 13-4 in the contest.
“I think in the second half reality set in and we realized we had 40 minutes to tie and not let up,” said Donovan. “In the second half we had more success.”
“I credit our kids in the second half, they did better,” said Andrulis. “It was a great season and they are a bit disappointed now but they will get over it.”
` No state title, but a BL crown and a state semifinal is an awful lot to hang the hat on. It was indeed a season to remember.