Raiders move on in Class L soccer action.
TORRINGTON: Ah, the States. That time of the year when teams understand that a bad half or a less than stellar five-minute stretch can end their seasons, no matter how great they had been up to then.
For the Torrington Raiders, a regular season that saw them win an unexpected 13 games seemed to be in constant jeopardy on Monday afternoon against a North Haven team from the South Central Conference who may have come in with a .500 record but plays in a deep, tough division.
On the strength of an early goal by senior Ethan Barbieri and a late goal from freshman Alex Segovia, the Raiders did just enough to move on to the second round of the Class L State Tournament after a 2-0 win over a talented Indians team.
“It was ugly in the beginning, wasn’t it?” Torrington head coach Mike Fritch Jr. said, “As we just said to the players, all you care about this time of the year is playing another game. Doesn’t matter how it gets done, just that it gets done.”
Torrington will stay at home and play East Lyme on Wednesday at 2 p.m. East Lyme got by Bethel by a 2-0 score on Monday as well.
The early goal came on a play the coaching staff at Torrington had been waiting for all year.
Barbieri took a cross from Ryan Casper at the left post and put it past North Haven goalie Joe Russo for the fast 1-0 lead at the 33:10 mark of the first half.
From that point on though, the sledding got tough for the home team who came in ranked No. 8 but had trouble with getting the ball out of the own territory for nearly 12 minutes at one point in the first half.
When the Raiders did manage to move the ball ahead, a terrific off sides trap by the Indians worked to perfection to the tune of nine calls in the opening half alone.
Not many teams in the Naugatuck Valley League utilized the trap as often as North Haven did and it took the home team a half to adapt to the timing needed to break the trap.
Goalie Nathan Manchester, whose play continues to improve, was magnificent in the net for Fritch, saving multiple shots from an uncomfortably close range while his team looked to get their game in gear.
“That first goal in the first seven minutes gave us a bunch of confidence,” Raider keeper Nathan Manchester said. “The whole team was struggling but we knew all we had to do was hold on.”
It looked like it was simply a matter of time before North Haven broke through, constant pressure usually leads to a leak in the dam but the Torrington defense escaped time after time while waiting for their offense to adjust.
Now understand, the loss of both Alex Church (injury) and Amar Suljic (three yellow cards equals a red and a day off) is a major blow to this team. Both are fixtures in the middle and up front and without them, Fritch needed somebody to step up and a couple of youngsters did just that.
“I had two freshman play superb today,” Fritch said, “Alex Segovia and Naseen Thompson, the stepped up for us. They took over the rolls of two seniors, one who is injured (Church) and the other who had card trouble (Suljic). Alex put away the game clincher. He’s very cool and calm for a freshman. To take his time and slot the ball home the way it needed to go, it was nice.”
Twice in the second half, the Raiders solved the off side trap. First senior Jose Jose Peguero got free and went in all alone from the 30-yard line on a breakaway but was turned away by Russo.
The second time they had a shot, Segovia, who has developed into one heck of an offensive threat, took a pass from senior Kevin Vaca and made it count with a shot that sailed past Russo for the insurance goal his team badly needed.
“We get to play on Wednesday,” Fritch said, “We’ll fix what we have to fix tomorrow. This time of the year, it’s one game at a time.”