Ellington heads to M finals after thriller

MERIDEN — Be phenomenal or be forgotten.

Since the beginning of the CIAC Class M state tournament, the Ellington High School boy’s soccer team has subscribed to that mantra.

With just seconds remaining in a scoreless semifinal showdown with Lyman Hall-Wallingford Tuesday night, the Knights were running out of time to make something phenomenal happen.

Enter James Costanzo.

Ellington’s junior striker corralled a header from Robbie Bailey and drove the ball into the back of the net with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give No. 14 seeded Ellington a thrilling 1-0 victory over No. 18 Lyman Hall at Falcon Field.

The victory sends Ellington (14-5-1) to its eighth state championship game in school history. The Knights’ who have won four state titles overall (1971,  ’72, ’07, ’08) will face the winner of the other Class M semifinal being played Wednesday night between defending Class M champion and top seeded Suffield and  No. 12 Plainville. The Class M championship game is scheduled for Saturday at site and time to be determined.

This year’s trip to the championship game is extra special mostly because few expected the Knights to make this deep a run in the post-season.  “No one thought we should be here but us,’ said senior captain Jon Bassett. “We knew we had the pieces to make it this far and everyone contributed. It isn’t just one or two people. Every game we’ve had someone else step up.’

Bassett’s assessment echoed true on the game’s final series as a number of players contributed to the game-winning goal. With just under 20 seconds remaining senior Nick Schipper drilled a free kick that sailed wide but was saved from going out of bounds by Costanzo. Bailey took the feed from Costanzo and then headed it back to him to set up the dramatic finish.

“We have really come together as a team this year and we’re playing our best soccer,’’ Costanzo said.

Lyman (12-6-2) out shot Ellington by a 14-9 margin and both teams had a number of outstanding opportunities throughout the night. “I think we played well overall and we did have some great chances. It was just unlucky there at the end,’’ said Lyman coach Arnie Jandreau.

Ellington had two great opportunities to put the ball in the net in the waning seconds of the first half, but Lyman goalkeeper Justin Donath (5 saves) came up with a couple of clutch saves.

“It’s really not like we didn’t have good chances all night and then all of a sudden that (last shot) went in,’’ said Ellington coach Roy Gurnon said. “We had some good looks and we got rewarded.’’

Lyman also had its share of excellent scoring opportunities but found no reward as Ellington sophomore  goalie Bailey Basset  stopped the Trojans time and again.

Bassett made a couple of sprawling saves  in the first half and then came up with five more in the second half to preserve the shutout.

Ellington’s back line of Jack Connolly, Schipper, Ian Chandler and Nick Topor was solid all night and provided plenty of support in front of Bassett.

“This is just unbelievable,’’ Bailey Bassett said. “It’s just unbelievable that this team is coming together at just the right time.’’

For more TSD photos from this game, click HERE.

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