Ellington, Tolland to Battle for State Title

Two former North Central Connecticut Conference rivals who now compete in different leagues will take to the soccer pitch Saturday to crown a Class M state champion.

Ellington defeated St. Joseph 1-0 at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury Monday to earn a return trip to the state championship game. Last year, the Knights dropped a 2-0 decision to fellow NCCC member Suffield in the finals, giving the Wildcats their third straight title. Suffield was moved to Class LL before this season.

In its fifth championship game appearance since 2003, eighth-seeded Ellington will be facing Tolland, the #11 seed, which upset second-seeded Bacon Academy 1-0 Monday in Middletown.

Ellington 1, St. Joseph 0

For more than 70 minutes, 29th-seeded St. Joseph gave Ellington all it could handle, keeping their semifinal matchup scoreless until a fluke occurrence with less than nine minutes to play.

James Costanzo, the leading scorer in Ellington history, made a long run downfield and booted a shot from 25 yards out. St. Joseph goalkeeper Erik Lewicki moved to his left and stopped the shot, but the ball squirted loose from his hands for a fleeting instant.

Ellington sophomore Ryan Sherba, who had just re-entered the game seconds earlier, sprinted into the box and slid into the ball as it eluded Lewicki’s grasp. As the ball crossed the goal line, the entire Ellington team erupted in jubilation.

“I saw James with the ball and knew he would make something happen,” Sherba said. “Coaches always say follow your shot, and the goalie bobbled it and I was in the right place at the right time.”

The Cadets did not throw in the towel, pressuring Knights goalkeeper Bailey Bassett until the final horn. Bassett was spectacular throughout the contest, twice denying Matthew Reis on golden scoring opportunities. He stopped a hard shot on a Reis breakaway with just over 10 minutes to play, and earlier had robbed him at point-blank range by deflecting a shot with the left side of his face.

“I got a bloody lip and everything, but it was definitely worth it,” Bassett said.

Ellington coach Roy Gurnon, who earned his 300th career victory as a head coach two weeks ago, gave considerable credit to his team’s opponent.

“We just couldn’t seem to string passes together, but in the long run, we got a goal with a lot of hard work,” he said. “Their back four was pretty tough.”

Tolland 1, Bacon Academy 0

Tolland used a goal in the 20th minute from senior Andrew Clokey and a resolute defense to advance to the Class M finals with a 1-0 victory over Bacon Academy at Middletown High School Monday night.

The Eagles, who now play in the Central Connecticut Conference, will be making their first title game appearance since winning the Class M championship in 2009.

The winning goal came on a set piece.  Tolland junior Tommy Leahy drove a ball from the touchline at 22 yards to the head of Clokey, who flicked the header into the far corner, beating Bacon goalkeeper Austin Rhodes.

“It was great to see Andrew Clokey score,” Tolland coach Jim Leahy said. “Last weekend we weren’t sure if he was ever going to play for us again (injury), and now he’s a hero. You have to love high school soccer.”

Tolland’s defensive scheme clogged the midfield and forced Bacon Academy to play over the top to its talented forwards. Despite being without senior co-captain defender Joe Giangregorio and sophomore all-CCC selection Adam Boutot, Tolland was able to handle Bacon standout LJ Luster.

“Bacon Academy was very talented up front, so we clogged the midfield and made them fight for every ball,” Leahy said. “We were more committed in that effort and it led to a great win.”

Bacon seemed most dangerous on set pieces and corner kicks (8-0 Bacon advantage), but was unable to finish. Rhodes and Tolland’s Kyle Boutot each had five saves.

“This team plays with a defensive resolve that shows how much they care about each other,” Leahy said. “We do not get outworked, because that would mean letting your best friend down. They are a great team to coach.”

Class L

South Windsor, the number 18 seed, dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to #11 Avon Monday at Falcon Field in Meriden.

“A strong Avon team really took it to us for the first 10 minutes of the game, scoring just 1:43 in,” South Windsor coach Dave St. Jean reported. “We weathered that storm and competed well to finish the half having earning a few scoring chances of our own. We made some halftime adjustments and took it to them in the first 20 minutes of the second half, but we unable to capitalize. Their team cleared at least two balls off their goal line.”

“Goalkeeper Josh Inkel and captains Brendan Cullinane, Jack Albert and Seth Caroline left it all on the field,” St. Jean said. “This team went further than any team since our championship year of 1979, and I am very proud to have been given the opportunity to work with this group. We had some ups and downs this year, but saved our best soccer for the end of the season when it really mattered. These boys call each other brothers, and they acted like a family until the end.”



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