MIDDLETOWN —The Maloney boys soccer team had bent, but not broken all postseason. In Sunday’s Class L state final, it finally did.
Daniel Hand’s leading scorer, Scott Testori, netted the game-winner off a corner kick with 13:18 left in the second half as the No. 3 Tigers downed the No. 17 Spartans 1-0 at Middletown High School.
Devin Juan and the Maloney defense kept the Tigers off the board for the first 67 minutes, though Hand had a big advantage on shots. It was Greyson McGeary who set up Testori’s goal on a corner kick.
Juan made eight saves — four of the diving variety — in a brilliant effort as the Spartans completed their best-ever season at 11-5-5.
Maloney made school history, making the program’s first ever trip to the state semifinals and finals. The Spartans were also the first Meriden soccer team to ever make the state finals.
A large Meriden contingent was on hand for Sunday’s game.
“The guys did a great job,” Maloney coach Dave Parness said. “They just battled. We tell the guys to keep battling and keep themselves alive and give themselves an opportunity. We had a couple of games with PK’s in the end and two games where we won at the end against Wilcox Tech and Branford. They did what they had to do.
“When we were on, it was a total team effort and a different guy every time. They should be very proud of what they did. It was a great run.”
Parness said he hopes this year’s charge to the championship game will change the culture at Maloney.
“We want to make it so we aren’t happy to be here, but this being the goal every year,” Parness said. “These guys now understand this moment and how hard it is once you get here. I hope the kids next year can learn from this year’s team.”
Hand certainly knows from experience. The Tigers (16-2-3) collected their third straight Class L state title. Keeper Daniel Wehrle had one save in the shutout.
“We knew what they were going to do and we were prepared for them,” Parness said. “We knew we had to limit the corners. We just gave one too many corners and they ended up catching up to us.”
The two squads were scoreless at the half. Daniel Hand had the bulk of the chances. Juan made diving stops in the 14th and 33rd minutes.
“He’s been great for us,” Parness said. “He’s kept us in a lot of games and, if he’s in the area, he’s going to make the save. We’ve been that way the whole tournament — bend but not break — but they made one more play than we did in our zone.”
Maloney had one corner kick in the half and had one clean look at goal in the first 40 minutes. Zach Smith took a shot from 20 yards in the 16th minute that was collected by Wehrle.
Testori forced Juan to make a diving save in the 14th minute. The keeper took a strong angle at the ball and made a clean save.
In the 25th minute, Lee Wildermann took a free kick from 40 yards out that ended up right in the chest of Juan. Eight minutes later, Juan gathered in a header from Testori off a pass from Jack Wilderman.
The Maloney defense was also strong throughout, turning away six corner kicks. And, in the final minute of the first half, Juan came out for a save, Hand was able to get the ball back and Denis Blandon cleared the ball off the backline.
“Despite losing, I’m very proud of my teammates,” Maloney senior defender Gustavo Pluma-Sanchez said. “We worked so hard to be here. Everyone has been supporting us and it’s been amazing. I think we performed well. We didn’t back down for one second. After they scored, we still had hope.
“It was in unbelievable year. I’m very proud of everybody.”
Ben Pierce also made a strong defensive play early in the first half to clear away a strong charge by Trey Doktorski.
“When we had momentum, I thought we had opportunities,” Parness said. “They just played like a team that has won it the last couple of years. There were times where I thought we could have played a little bit harder. Maybe the moment got too big for us sometimes.”
The second half was all Hand. Juan was forced to make several saves to keep the Tigers off the board. Testori had a header go over the crossover after a long possesion in the 55th minute and forced Juan to make a leaping save in the 60th minute.
Pierce took a shot from 25 yards that drifted over the bar with 15 minutes remaining in the second half.
Following their goal, the Tigers continued to threaten. Jack Wilderman hit the crossbar in the 69th minute and Testori rang one off the post in the 74th minute.
In a wild final minute, Maloney had a free kick and a corner kick, but were unable to net the equalizer.
“We played our hearts out in the first half and then an unlucky corner in the second half, but we definitely played our hearts out today,” Pierce said. “We deserved a lot more; we played hard,
“This was a way to go out as a senior,” he added. “This will always be a memory in my brain and it will be a memory forever.”
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