Eastern Connecticut Captures Men’s Soccer Championship
WILLIMANTIC, Conn.- Senior Mitch Power (Douglas, Mass.) scored a pair of goals and classmate Luke Capezzone (Colchester, Conn.) scored the game-winner in the 50th minute as the top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University men’s soccer team became the first team to win as many as three straight Little East Conference playoffs championships with a 3-1 victory over second-seeded University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Saturday afternoon at Thomas Nevers Field.
The final was a rematch of last year’s Little East championship, also won by Eastern (12-3-4) by an identical score. Eastern, ranked in a tie for 10th in New England, has won five of the last seven LEC playoff titles, winning each time it has reached the title game. UMass (11-8-0) dropped to 0-4 in championship game appearances, its last three losses in the final at the hands of Eastern.
As the automatic qualifier, Eastern secured its seventh straight post-season tournament berth under seventh-year head coach Greg DeVito, sixth in the NCAA.
“It’s a good feelilng to win it every single year,” noted Capezzone afterward, “but to get it a third time in a row is outstanding. “
The victory was the 100th in the career of DeVito (100-31-16), who averages over 14 wins a year with a .735 winning percentage.
With Eastern leading 1-0 early in the second half, Capezzone found himself alone in the box with possession after freshman Kyle Peterson (Ivoryton, Conn.) had his shot deflected. After gathering the loose ball, Capezzone blasted a shot to the near-side post to give the Warriors a 2-0 lead just 4:32 into the half. The tally was the third of the season and second straight game-winning one in the LEC playoffs for Capezzone, who spent the first half of the season on the back line due to injuries to starting defenders.
With the victory, Eastern avenged its only LEC regular-season loss when the Corsairs snapped the Warriors’ 16-game LEC unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win at North Dartmouth, Mass. two weeks ago. The win moved UMD into first place but Eastern regained the top seed and its third straight regular-season title when it won its regular-season conference finale, coupled with a UMD loss.
The Warriors had a great opportunity to break through early Saturday but Peterson’s point blank attempt was deflected up over the cross bar in the seventh minute.
There weren’t a lot of great chances early in the game but the next one went to the Corsairs. After earning a free kick, junior Josh Chao sent a free kick attempt directly into the defensive wall. UMass Dartmouth had another golden opportunity to score following a 23rd minute turnover in the Eastern defensive end but freshman Georges Tenie had his shot go wide.
Eastern inched close to scoring off a corner kick less than a minute later but a header by Power went over the crossbar and the game remained scoreless. Power and the Warriors finally broke through in the 32nd minute. Freshman Nicholas Warren (Southbury, Conn.) sent in a cross from just inside the corner flag and the pass found Power alone in the box from about 15 yards out. Power unleashed a powerful blast that rendered freshman Luis Carranza helpless on its way to finding the back of the net to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead at the 31:21 mark.
Power would net his second goal of the match and team-leading 11 of the season within the first 15 minutes of the second half. After making a strong run into the box he would get hauled down from behind to gain a penalty kick. After a relatively lengthy protest by the entirety of the UMass Dartmouth team, Power calmly stepped up to the line and delivered a powerful shot past the diving arms of Carranza with 38:17 left to play in the game.
The Warriors kept UMass scoreless in the 59th minute when a pair of defenders slid in on the goal line and deflected a Corsair attempt high over the net prompting exclamations of disbelief from their bench.
Ultimately, however, UMass Dartmouth got on the board in the 74th minute. A hand ball inside the 18-yard box gave the Corsairs a penalty kick attempt and Chao wouldn’t miss it, guiding it past the diving hand of Eastern freshman keeper Greg Walton (Brunswick, Maine) to cut the Eastern lead to two at 3-1 with 16:44 to play in the match.
Averaging less than four saves per match this year, Walton made nine while Carranza was credited with four. Eastern was out-shot by a 17-11 margin (10-7 on goal) for the match and earned three corner kicks to UMass Dartmouth’s four. The game featured 31 fouls called and the issuing of six yellow cards, four against the visitors.
Eastern had advanced to the final with a semifinal win here Wednesday over fourth-seeded Rhode Island College, 4-1, while UMass Dartmouth eliminated visiting third-seeded Keene State College, 3-1.
Eastern improved to 9-1-1 at Nevers Field this year, 5-1-0 against conference opponents with three shutouts. The Corsairs fell to 3-7-0 on their opponents’ home field.
Eastern will return to action next week when in 2013 NCAA championship tournament. Times and pairings will be announced Monday and can be viewed live by clicking onto the NCAA’s website at ncaa.com.
(Eastern Connecticut sports information office)