Ellington’s Season Comes to End in Defensive Battle

NEW BRITAIN-With just over 12 minutes remaining in the Class M tournament semifinal between Ellington and undefeated Lewis Mills, the offenses had frequently been in close but no cigar mode. Ellington had been unable to capitalize on good second half scoring opportunities, largely due to Lewis Mills quality defense, while the Knights own defense had stepped up when necessary. It was clear there was a very good chance whichever team scored first would win the game.

At that moment, it was it was finally time for the ball to bounce one team’s way, but the Ellington players found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the Knights defense attempted to get back to the goal area and block it off after the Spartans quickly got down the field, Jake Cosentino corralled the bouncing ball in front of the goal and smoothly headed it to Matt Gilbert, who fired a shot over goalie Mitchell LaForge to get his squad on the board.

Sixth-seeded Ellington continued to have good scoring opportunities in the final minutes, but alas, it was not to be. No. 2 Lewis Mills outlasted the Knights 1-0 in front of a large crowd at Willow Brook Park. The Spartans will face Knights rival Suffield in Saturday’s championship game. Ellington ends 2017 with a record of 15-4.

“I thought our guys really pulled together this year. There’s a lot of good soccer players here,” Ellington head coach Roy Gurnon said. “Today, they just scored and we didn’t.”

The Knights had the Lewis Mills defense on its heels in the second half, particularly the deeper it went. After struggling to move the ball down the field and showing impatience during the first half., the offense began to play much more efficiently. Players were more careful and accurate with their passes and moved the ball across the field more. They were able to beat Spartan defenders down the field at times and advance the ball in front of the goal, and as a result of all these attributes, put themselves in position for quality shots. None of these scoring opportunities worked out the way Ellington wanted them to, however.

In the opening portion of the second half, Ellington began to control the ball a majority of the time and put consistent pressure on the defense, although they obtained few shots on goal both n and of high quality. As the half got roughly 25 minutes in, the Knights experienced a series of throw-ins which led to multiple close shots on goal, all of which were blocked by either defenders or goalie Jackson Lord.

Following Gilbert’s goal for the Spartans, Ellington continued to nearly score. Lord made a spectacular save with 10:57 remaining, diving to his left to block a pinpoint shot. With six minutes to go, Nick Lutrzykowski made a last-minute stop directly in front of the goal when Lord was out of position, and the rebound went wide. Lord executed another impressive save with 2:40 left, and a poor pass ended a promising opportunity seconds later.

“In the second half, I thought we dictated a lot more and were able to get some good shots of,” Gurnon said. “We were just a little more patient with the ball, knocked it around and took another pass. We put a lot of pressure on them at the end. The ball isn’t necessarily going to bounce your way when the games are so evenly matched. Congrats to them, they did a good job.”

Senior Will Longo also reflected on the tough loss and Ellington’s inability to score.

“I think it was a 50/50 game overall, you had two great teams going at it,” he said. “They just had a good chance and finished strong, while we had a bunch of chances but couldn’t put it in the back of the net. They’re a really good defense and team. We gave it to them, we gave it our all, it just wasn’t enough.”

Even as its offense played inconsistently, the Knights kept the contest a 50/50 one because of their stalwart defense throughout. The unit was able to consistently pressure players and force them into challenging passes and shots, and limited Lewis Mills possessions more as the game went on. When the Spartans did advance the ball to the goal and obtain solid shots, Ellington defenders frequently blocked or altered them. And of course, LaForge was ready to make a few athletic saves behind them.

In the first half, the Knights offense was much quieter. They were unable to possess and move the ball around for long periods of time, and the passing and shooting was regularly inaccurate.  The closest Ellington came to scoring was with 2:04 remaining, a high shot that Jones blocked with the tip of his hand.

“They had the ball a lot in the first half, we barely created any chances. We were very rushed in the first half, partly because of them and partly because of the way they played,” Gurnon said.

It was the fourth time in five years the Ellington program advanced to at least the Class M semifinals. It has suffered some tough losses during the stretch, with the Knights losing in the finals last season and 2013. They won the state title four seasons ago.

Gurnon and Longo each discussed what made this year’s Knights team special.

“When you get a bunch of guys together who will work hard and believe in the team, good things can happen. I think that’s what you saw this year,” Gurnon said. “These guys reached the point where they built unity, which is the goal for every team.”

“This team’s a family. I love these guys and coming out to practice every day was a blast for me,” Longo said. “Towards the end of the season, we showed what Ellington soccer really means and what it is. We made a good run. I’m going to miss Ellington soccer.”

 

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