Torrington tops Naugatuck for NVL Copper Division soccer title. By John Nestor
Torrington forward, Amar Suljic is fouled by Naugatuck defender Tyler Saad late in the second half of the Raiders 2-1 win. Suljic scored both goals for Torrington, who won the Copper Division for the first time since divisions were put in.
TORRINGTON - The fans showed up to see their Torrington Red Raiders win a division crown and Amar Suljic helped make sure they didn't go home disappointed.
Suljic scored two goals, including the game-winner with 7:25 to play to lift Torrington to a 2-1 victory over Naugatuck on Wednesday night in what turned out to be the NVL Copper Division title match.
Torrington finishes the regular season at 11-4-1 and wins its first crown since the NVL went to divisional play. The Red Raiders also avenged a 3-1 loss at Naugatuck from eight days ago that opened up the Copper Division race to include Torrington, Naugatuck and Holy Cross.
Naugatuck finishes the regular season 11-3-2 and had its four-match winning streak snapped ahead of the NVL tournament. Torrington and Naugatuck split the regular season series and Torrington's better division mark gave it the title.
It ended up coming down to the final regular season game of the season and to Suljic, who put Torrington ahead with each of his two goals.
"We played out hearts out," Suljic said. "We deserved it. We wanted it for ourselves and we wanted it for the town and the school."
The town and school showed up as did the Red Raiders, hundreds and hundreds of fans packed the stands and lined the fences and were into the game for the full 80 minutes. Suljic gave them reason to cheer with a goal a little over six minutes into the game to make it 1-0.
Naugatuck tied it, 1-1, on a goal by Jason Goja with five minutes left in the first half but was unable to mount many serious threats at a second goal.
Suljic then gave his team a title with a goal off of a corner kick that was headed to his feet in front of the net. He wasted no time finding the back of the net and giving the Red Raiders a 2-1 lead.
"I was at the right place at the right time," Suljic said. "I didn't think about anything, I was just glad to be able to put it in the back of the net."
"I think that might be the first corner we have converted all season," Torrington coach Mike Fritch said. "It was nice to get one at an important time."
Naugatuck pushed for an equalizer over the final seven minutes but Torrington was able to keep the dangerous chances to a minimum and goalie Zack Paniatti was there to take care of the rest.
The final horn touched off a celebration among the team and fans and students rushed the field to celebrate the division title.
"It's the best thing that has ever happened in my career," said senior Jairo Borja, who assisted on Suljic's first goal. "It's an amazing feeling. I knew we could do it, that we had the potential."
This team does have potential and Wednesday it was realized. The win capped a complete turnaround from last season when the potential appeared to be there but never capitalized on.
A 6-9-1 regular season was enough for a state tournament berth, but that ended quickly with a 4-0 loss to eventual Class L state champion Bunnell. Last year Torrington scored one goal or less in nine games and at one time dropped five straight.
Looking back, some of the lessons may have been hard, but they were worthwhile because the current Red Raiders seem to have learned from them.
"Last year we just weren't together, a little more selfish and not the same chemistry," Borja said. "This year we have all come together, we are working together and it is paying off."
Fritch has seen the pay off throughout the season as well.
"There's a learning curve and so many of them were getting their first year of experience last season," he said. "Plus they work hard. They're a great group and I wouldn't trade them for the world.
"They like each other, they may get on each other here and there but good teams push each other. They expect perfection from each other."
And how could he trade them, especially after they have given him not only a division crown, but family bragging rights as well. Coach Fritch's dad, Mike Sr., coached the boys for a number of seasons but the division title remained elusive until Wednesday.
"We hadn't won anything like this since there have been divisions," Fritch said. "I guess I'll have to brag to my father that he never won it and I did. I don't know if it has sunk in yet."
Fritch and the Raiders will have a little time to let it sink in before they get back after it and look to accomplish more goals. The NVL tournament should be good, with Torrington likely headed for a rematch with Naugatuck and possible a meeting with Watertown. And then the state tournament awaits early next month.
"We had a checklist, make the states, win the Copper Division, then there is the NVL Tournament and states," Fritch said. "You can't worry about any until you get the one before, we have two and now we want to check off the last two."
Two down, two to go, and if we have learned anything about the Red Raiders this year, it's that they have the potential to go four-for-four.