Raiders get by Branford, 2-1 behind Thompson and DallaValle. Host Wethersfield in Class L second round on Thursday.
TORRINGTON: As Torrington junior standout Naseem Thompson got loose late in the second half of his teams Class L First Round game, it looked to all the world that he would let a bullet fly on goal.
After all, he is the team’s leading goal scorer and had tied things in the second half at one goal each with a tough and tested Branford team but instead, he used himself as a decoy before pushing a perfect cross to teammate Nick DallaValle for the game winner with just 2:42 left in regulation.
The Raiders prevailed, 2-1 and move on and will host No 10 Wethersfield (who got by Maloney 1-0) on Wednesday at 2 p.m. right back at the Robert H. Frost Complex.
Branford plays in the Southern Connecticut Conference, a rough and tumble league and while they came in ranked No 26 at 6-9-1, the Hornets gave the Raiders all that they could handle, especially in the first half when the visitors ramped up the physical play and took a 1-0 lead into the half.
“We weren’t ready for the physicality in the first half. “ Fritch said. “We talked about it at halftime and I think we were more like us in the second half. We controlled more of the midfield and when we control the midfield, good things happen.”
The Hornets tied Class LL power Cheshire, 1-1 in the last game of the season and had speed and power working in the first half.
Torrington was outshot 11-8 for the game and Raider goalie Luke Wassik earned his keep with several sensational saves, one off a header in the box at the 32:40 mark of the first half, a second and even more impressive one just before the Hornets took the lead on a dead on shot by Hazen Salem that he turned away.
The early pressure eventually led to a goal by the visitors when Ethan Boileau took a ball that deflected off a Raider defender and put it past a diving Wassik for the 1-0 lead that held up till the half.
In the second half, it was the Raiders who turned up the physical pressure and made runs on the goal, leading to the equalizer by Thompson with just under three minutes gone in the second half.
Branford utilized an effective offside trap that had gotten Torrington often in the first half as their attacking forwards timing was just a step off.
Thompson would time his move on goal just right this time and as the Branford keeper Nicholas Cordero made his move towards the ball, the talented junior chipped it just over his head and into the goal.
As the game wore on, overtime loomed until the Raiders put together one final push, started by the ever so talented Thompson who took the ball on the left side, made a move towards the goal, heard his teammate call and sent a dead on cross to the waiting DallaValle for the game winner.
They say practice makes perfect and on this play, repetition payed off.
“The game winner,” Fritch said. “We work on that play every day. We call it our short check back drill. You bring the ball down short and then cross it in the middle and Nick (DallaValle) was in the right spot.”
Nobody would have blamed Thompson for going for the game winner and at a different time, he just might have. Giving the ball up showed his coach something.
“It’s the kind of kid he is,” Fritch said. “He’s come a long way. Maybe at the beginning of the season, he may have shot it but as the season has progressed, he’s gotten more faith in his teammates, he’s willing to share. That’s what he supposed to do in that spot because everybody is converging on him, the goalie is looking at him so Nick is wide open.”
Another home game awaits, another chance to keep playing in November.