Whitteaker seals Norwalk shutout over Cheshire
By TOM EVANS
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — The 13th-seeded Norwalk boys soccer team was in control of its Class LL tournament second-round game against No. 36 Cheshire pretty much from the outset Wednesday at soggy Sam Testa Field.
But the Bears clung to just a 1-0 lead more than 20 minutes into the second half, and needed an offensive spark. The team got that spark from an unlikely source in outside defender Sean Whitteaker.
Whitteaker whipped the rebound of a Tyler Collins free kick into the right side of the net with 17:42 left to play, helping secure the 2-0 victory over Cheshire.
The win moves Norwalk (13-5-2) into the quarterfinals, the deepest trip into the tournament for the Bears since 2004. That team reached the finals, where it lost 3-1 to Marcus Tracy-powered Newtown.
Norwalk will take on No. 5 Farmington Friday at 2 p.m. in Farmington. The Indians (16-2) knocked off No. 21 Hall of West Hartford 3-1 Wednesday. Cheshire, which upset Trumbull in the first round, finished at 8-10-1.
“One of the great things about the state tournament is anyone can win,” Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said. “It”s all about who wants it more, and these kids wanted to win. We wanted to put the game away early, but we had to work for it.”
Norwalk took less that 10 minutes to take the lead, after putting a couple of shots on goal in the first five minutes. Andres Torres cut off a clearing attempt and fed Spencer Jacoby racing down the middle of the field. As he moved to his right, Jacoby”s cross-body kick went off the left post and spun just over the goal line.
Defender Eric Rothbart tried desperately to get back and move the ball out of harm”s way, but he just slammed the ball into the back of the net with 30:14 to go in the first half.
“We have to put our chances away, we have to put in those chances,” Jacoby said. “I didn”t hit it good, but (Rothbart) put it in. It means a lot to make the quarterfinals. Losing to Staples in the FCIAC (semifinals) is turning out to be better and better for us.”
Later in the half Jacoby had two more scoring chances carom off the crossbar. Torres set him up from deep on the left wing with nine minutes remaining, and Jake Zuniga”s corner kick gave Jacoby an awkward header try that again caught the pipe with under 30 seconds to go.
Cheshire head coach Artur Branco said that slim deficit might have been deceiving, even if his team gave a strong effort.
“We didn”t play well, and you have to give credit where credit is due,” Branco said. “There was no shape to the game for us, and we didn”t have any transition game. We struggled today. The best team won today. For us the season boils down to the attitude of our players. From where we started, at 2-7, to where we ended is a credit to these players.”
Goalkeeper Alex Hurd (three saves) did his part in not allowing a big momentum swing in the second half by diving to stop John Mazzella”s closerange shot at the 24:20 mark.
“It took every effort to win this game,” said Hurd, who recorded his eighth shutout of the season. “It was hard because of the rain — it made the ball slippery — but it”s very nice to have the lead. Our defense is one of the best in the state. When we play good teams, there are barely any shots or goals.”
Some six minutes later, Norwalk earned a free kick from 40 yards out on the right side of the field. Collins” shot was stopped by goalkeeper Dylan Hasson (four saves), but the rebound squirted out to Whitteaker at the left corner of the crease.
Whitteaker sent the ball low to the right side of the cage, and the Bears had a 2-0 cushion with 17:42 left in the game.
“The ball came right to me, I shot, and it went in,” Whitteaker said of his second career goal. “This feels good, and it was a lot easier (than Monday”s 3-2, double-overtime win over Wilbur Cross).We controlled this game. At 1-0, things were a little tense. We concentrated on defense, counter-attacked, and got the goal. That loss to Staples keeps giving us motivation.”
Norwalk should have plenty of motivation Friday after the long bus ride to Farmington. Laughton doesn”t know much about the Indians, but that doesn”t concern him.
“The way we”ve been approaching games is we don”t worry about the other team,” Laughton said. “If we play our game, the other team has to adjust to us. It”s good to be back in the quarterfinals, for us, the fans, and the city. All those volunteer youth coaches who helped build this team can take pride in us going to the quarters.”
The Hour Newspaper – 11/6/08