WEST HARTFORD — The Southington players carried their deep dejection to the far corner of Hall’s Chalmers Stadium as the sun set Tuesday for a post-game chat with coach Dave Yanosy.
Hall had an upbeat meeting, packed up and left. The stadium was virtually empty by the time Yanosy got all his points across.
The CCC West is the state’s most unforgiving soccer division. Chances are a state champion will emerge.
More crucially for the league’s rank and file, some very good teams will fall short of tournament qualification. Consider that perennially potent Simsbury has five draws and sits in last place.
Southington has been among the fallen for two straight seasons and Yanosy had just watched a golden opportunity to close in on a berth slip away. He had a lot to say after the Blue Knights lost a gut-wrenching 2-1 decision to the Warriors. Heads all around him dropped.
A win would have placed Southington (4-7-2, 3-6-2 CCC West) just one point shy of the 13 necessary to qualify for the Class LL tournament. Even a draw would have left the Knights just a win away. Now they’ll need two positive results in the three games remaining against Simsbury, Newington and New Britain.
The victory put Hall (4-5-4, 2-5-4) where the Knights had hoped to be. Southington won the first game between the sides, 2-0, at Fontana Field on September 20.
“We’ve got to show up from here on out and put in the 80 minutes,” said Yanosy, who acknowledged Hall’s improvement over the last three weeks and had no problem with the effort his boys put forth. “You have to be willing to play that way right out of the gate, and it’s something we’ve certainly done. We’ve had some very good performances and good results. We didn’t do it today, but Hall had something to do with that.”
Both of Hall’s goals were scored off second touches from 25 yards out. Junior midfielder James Peterson pounded in the game-winner off a back pass from Connor Sandstrom with just over nine minutes remaining.
Only three minutes had passed since sophomore Andrew Muskatello deflected the equalizer past keeper Zach Smith (4 saves) with his shin.
“I didn’t work out for us,” Yanosy said. “We’ve certainly talked about anticipation on those 50/50 balls, but the second ball just didn’t bounce our way. I can’t fault their effort. We’ve got to have a short memory and pick up the pieces.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Yanosy added. “We’re running out of opportunities, but these are the times you come together. We’ve got to go after Simsbury Thursday.”
Southington took the initiative off the opening kickoff. Noah Violette, working the left wing well, had the game’s first shot, but rolled it wide left.
Ian Powell served the box and Patrick Straub just couldn’t get his head on it. Straub crossed for Sean Conway, but his shot was too strong.
The series of “just-misses” set the tone.
“The teamwork pretty much wasn’t there,” said Conway, Southington’s leading scorer. “That’s what we’ve always been good at — working together as a team. Today it just wasn’t there.
“We have a lot of people over six feet and you wouldn’t expect the 50/50 balls to be getting by this team every single time. When we win them, we get a ton of opportunities, but today it was awful. When one thing goes, the rest of it falls apart.”
Gradually, Hall took the play away. In the 23rd minute, Knights defender Mike Rogalski cleared a shot from in front of the net, but Max Gilden secured it in the middle of the field and launched a perfect shot over the outstretched arms of leaping keeper Brian Falco (2 saves).
The Knights’ hunger returned early in the second half, but they couldn’t sustain pressure on the goal. Tom Fischer, Muskatello and Mike Aylett had early shots that were either stopped or sailed off net. Dan Connolly’s well-placed serve in the 52nd minute was headed by Straub, but Smith made the save.
A nifty collaboration between Muskatello, Erik Schneider and Connolly may have been the game’s prettiest play, but no points are awarded for aesthetics. Smith made the stop.
The goal that tied the game was initiated by Powell’s free kick from midfield. Schneider directed it to Muskatello with his knee.
The elation was short-lived, and the Knights have their work cut out for them if they’re to avoid a third straight season without tourney action.
“[The seniors] were freshmen the last time we made it and I keep trying to tell them how much fun it is,” Yanosy said. “We’d be ready for it based on the league we play in. I’m optimistic we’re going to make it.”