Class LL Boys Soccer: Norwalk loses heartbreaker to Simsbury on penalties
By BOB BIRGE
SIMSBURY — After the season ended in gut-wrenching fashion, Norwalk boys soccer coach Chris Laughton sought out Jose Canahui, the lone remaining starter from the Bears’ 2012 state championship team.
Player and coach hugged in a long embrace, a poignant scene on the turf at Simsbury’s Holden Field on Wednesday night.
“It’s emotional,” Laughton said following the Bears’ loss to Simsbury on penalty kicks in the second round of the Class LL state tournament. “He’s been a guy that has come in and done everything we told him to do from day one and has worked incredibly hard to get where he is today.”
After the teams battled through 100 scoreless minutes on a cool, crisp evening, Simsbury, the No. 7 seed, advanced after defeating the 10th-seeded Bears 4-3 on penalty kicks.
Steven Moretta drilled the winner into the upper-left corner, sending the Trojans into the quarterfinals on Friday against No. 15 Glastonbury, which stunned FCIAC champion Fairfield Ludlowe 2-1.
Norwalk goalkeeper Tyler Dalton guessed right on Moretta’s shot but it sailed over Dalton’s head.
Moretta’s goal came after Simsbury goalkeeper Patrick Werle dived to his right to stop a low shot by Rene Jimenez, one of Werle’s two saves on the Bears’ five penalty kicks.
Norwalk (12-3-5) may have deserved a better fate as the Bears outplayed the Trojans, especially in the second half when they generated the better scoring chances.
Norwalk finished with a 16-12 edge in shots and a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks.
“I thought we deserved to win the game,” Laughton said. “It’s tough when it’s decided by PKs but we’ve been on the other side of that two times this year, so we can’t argue with it.”
Norwalk needed penalty kicks to defeat Trumbull 2-1 in the first round on Monday.
After Wednesday’s loss, a number of the Bears’ players had trouble fighting back tears before they got on a bus for a two-hour trip back to Norwalk.
“I played with some of the greaters players out there like Nick Zuniga, Mike Broncati, Chris Puente, Andrew Melitsanopoulos, Santi Muriel — all these great guys,” Canahui said. “It’s been amazing. It’s been a great time.”
Werle finished with 11 saves while Dalton stopped six shots for Norwalk, including one of the penalty kicks.
The Bears’ best chance in regulation may have come five minutes into the second half when Werle lunged to get a hand on Patrick Barrantes’ blast from inside the penalty box.
With 17 minutes remaining, Werle had to make another diving save on Canahui’s header.
“To be quite honest, I though we played better than them,” Canahui said. “I thought we had more chances than what they had. Pretty much the only time they beat us was in the air since they were bigger than us but keeping the ball on the ground, they couldn’t beat us.”
After each goalkeeper made a pair of saves in the two 10-minute overtime periods, Norwalk went first in the penalty kicks.
Canahui gave the Bears a 1-0 lead before Spencer Ralphs answered for Simsbury. After each goalkeeper made saves in the second round, Barrantes and Alex Escalante scored to give Norwalk leads of 2-1 and 3-2.
But Patrick Shea and Jack Rosenberg matched the Norwalk goals to leave the teams deadlocked 3-3 following eight kicks.
“I’m so proud of these seniors for where they started as freshmen and where they finished tonight,” Laughton said. “I thought we played our best game tonight. I’ve been waiting for these guys to play this way the entire season and it’s just a shame that we can’t go on.”
As he walked off the field, Canahui flashed back to Norwalk’s state championship victory over Fairfield Prep two years ago.
“It was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said. “I can’t explain how amazing that moment was, just the last few seconds. I kneeled down and starting crying because of how happy I was.”