Norwalk outlasts Central in Class LL second round
By MIKE CARDILLO
BRIDGEPORT — As if the final match of the Central and Norwalk boys soccer trilogy needed any more drama, it found some in the form of penalty kicks.
With the sides knotted at 1 after 100 minutes, a winner of the Class LL second-round match would be determined via the unpopular format.
The drama only built at Kennedy Stadium as the teams ended the first round of kicks at four apiece thanks to a clutch save by Central’s ChiChi Ogbenta.
But it wasn’t until the 10th and final kick of a second round of penalties, when Norwalk’s Dan Freshman drilled it into the bottom left corner of the net that a winner was declared, 9-8 on kicks.
“It was a win-win situation, even if I missed, we couldn’t lose,” Freshman said of his deciding kick, which gave No. 9 Norwalk a measure of revenge after losing to No. 8 Central 1-0 in the FCIAC championship game last Friday.
Unlike CIAC championship matches, there had to be a victor on Wednesday. Neither side was pleased that after three games and 260 minutes of soccer of which the teams were separated by just two goals that it had to end on penalty kicks.
“I’ll take a win anytime,” said Norwalk coach Kurt Simonsen, whose Bears (16-2-1) host No. 16 seed Wilbur Cross, which stunned top-seeded Naugatuck 2-1 in overtime, in the quarterfinals on Friday. “But it’s not the right way for Central to lose.”
His counterpart, Declan Curtin, was downbeat that the curtain had fallen on his Hilltoppers’ (16-3) season, but accepted the coin-flip nature of penalties.
“There’s really no way else to settle it and I’m fine losing that way,” said Curtin, who was more upset that he didn’t know the status of a few key players until right before kickoff.
However, what irked Curtin the most was that his team allowed the game to reach overtime. Central dominated play in the first half and did not allow a shot on goal by Norwalk.
The Hilltoppers carried a 1-0 lead into the break, thanks to a long and looping header from 15 yards out by Felipe de Freitas on a service by Hugo Alves.
“Coach told us never to wake up a sleeping bear,” junior midfielder Fellipe Ribeiro said.
In the 69th minute Norwalk’s Pat Scully drew a yellow card after questioning a call, but it drew Central standout Felipe Melo into the mix and he was also sent off. The turn of events seemed to rally the Bears.
Two minutes later, Kristopher Whitteaker, Scully’s replacement, found the net on a ball served into the box by Matt Mitchell to tie the score.
“I knew he could go in there and mix it up,” Simonsen said.
The remaining half-hour saw neither side mount any serious threats, thus leaving the trilogy to be decided by penalty kicks.
For Norwalk, the victory was vindication for two close defeats – their only ones on the season – at the hands of the Hilltoppers.
Central won the first meeting of the two teams 3-2 on Oct. 14.
“We really felt they got lucky twice,” said Freshman, noting that his team was insulted that Central had made victory T-shirts prior to the FCIAC final.
Those shirts commemorated a historic season for Central, which raised its first soccer banner of any kind since 1925.
“This whole year was a joy,” Curtin said.
In the end, after three hard fought and at times testy meetings, both Norwalk and Central wished the best of each other. Each agreed that it was unfortunate that two FCIAC teams had to play this early into the state playoffs.
“They’re our rivals and it hurts to lose,” Ribeiro said. “I hope that they take it all. They’re a great team and they deserve it.”
NORWALK………………………….0 1 0 0 – 1
CENTRAL……………………………1 0 0 0 – 1
Records: Norwalk 16-2-1; Central 16-3
Goals: N – Kristopher Whitteaker; C – Felipe de Freitas; Assists: N -Matt Mitchell; C -Hugo Alves; Goalies: N -Mike Surace (6 saves); C – ChiChi Ogbenta (6 saves);
Shots: N – 8; C – 12