BEARS ROLL INTO STATE SEMIS
By TOM EVANS
Hour Staff writer
NORWALK — The Season of the Bear continues in the city.
A day after the Norwalk High School field hockey team knocked off the defending champions to advance to the Class L state finals for the first time in school history, the boys soccer team made sure there would be a new king in Class LL when they defeated Farmington, 1-0, in double overtime on chilly, wind-swept Sam Testa Field on Thursday night.
All of this postseason action comes while the 7-1 football team waits to take on crosstown rival Brien McMahon on Thanksgiving, with a Class LL playoff berth on the line for the Bears in that contest.
The third-seeded Bears (16-2-2) advance to take on No. 7 Trumbull (17-1-4) – the only team to beat Norwalk in the regular season – in one of Saturday’s semifinals at 4:30 p. m. at West Haven High School.
Norwalk makes it this far in the state tournament for the first time since 2004. No. 6 Farmington ended its reign atop Class LL at 13-2-3.
Senior midfielder Erick Romero’s terrific long entry ball found junior forward Kevin Joslyn racing toward the Farmington box near the midway point of the second, mandated overtime period.
Joslyn fielded the long pass on a bounce and flipped a shot over senior goalkeeper Austin Peluso (seven saves) and the ball floated into the net with 5:40 remaining before the teams would have gone to penalty kicks to decide the outcome.
Romero said Norwalk has gained resilience from firstround departures from the FCIAC tournaments (2010 and ’11) and the state playoffs (2010).
“I saw Kevin run, I tried to make a pass, and it became a nice ball,” Romero said. “We became a better team with all those losses. This tournament is our last chance. We play for each other, and that’s all we need. We didn’t want (penalty kicks). We knew we were going to win.”
Joslyn agreed with his teammate about those previous defeats, and he also likes the chance to play the Eagles one more time with a spot in the state finals in the balance.
“This feels great,” Joslyn said. “We had some tough first-round losses, but we knew that was going to end. Farmington has a very tough defense, and they were tough to break down. When I saw the ball coming, it bounced, and I thought it was never going to come down. Erick played a great ball over the top, and I just popped it over (Peluso’s) head. Our only loss was to Trumbull, and now we get a chance to get some revenge.”
The Indians did not go away in the final minutes, and junior defender Ben Cohn launched a beautiful cross that was grabbed by Norwalk sophomore goalkeeper Svet Kozak (eight saves) grabbed before it could reach another Farmington player.
Another Cohn free kick from 40 yards away in the waning moments was headed out by junior sweeper Andrew Melitsanopoulos.
“This was a bang-up game,” said Farmington head coach Steve Waters. “Norwalk is a quality team, and one of the top three teams we played this year. In overtime we were going for the win, especially in the last 10 minutes. It’s 50-50 on (penalty kicks) and we didn’t want to leave it to those odds. Austin Peluso had an outstanding season. He’s married to the position, and he’s kept us in a lot of games.”
Waters said his team is used to such close finishes, including titles in 2008 and 2010.
“Since a 2-0 win over Norwalk in the 2008 tournament, we’ve been in 11 one-goal games,” Waters said. “And we’re 9-2 in those games, including 1-0 over Staples in last year’s championship game. My team knows end-of-season dramatics.”
Kozak also came up huge in the first overtime, stopping powerful senior midfielder Adrian Kukula point-blank, and forcing Kukula to send his rebound attempt wide of the cage. For the game, Norwalk produced five corner kicks, to four for Farmington.
“I think over the last five years we’re one of the best programs in the state, and to (get to the semifinals) at home, there’s nothing better,” said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton. “We have so many guys on attack, with Kevin and Mike Broncati, we don’t have to have Nick (Zuniga) do it every time. I feel we have confidence in the kids in penalty kicks, but we didn’t want it to come to that. This is great feeling, and something we’ve been working toward for a long time. This is the hardest-working group I’ve had, and they do everything they can to have practice tomorrow.”
Laughton was impressed with the game’s only goal, as well. “I thought a few times before in the game we’d get one, but it was a nice ball,” Laughton said. “Kevin made a fabulous finish.” That’s what Norwalk soccer fans are looking for on Saturday, too.
© The Hour Newspaper.