The CRHS boys varsity soccer team traveled to Higganum to face rival Haddam-Killingworth High School. The clock was ticking on the Blue Devil’s chances to make the post-season tournament, and if they had any chance to keep their hopes alive, they badly needed a win.
Based on how they controlled the match, maintained possession and poured their hearts out on the field, they weren’t going to be denied. H-K did manage to break loose a few times early in the contest and thankfully they placed the ball too wide or too high to score. Then CRHS took over. Junior Jack Temple received the ball on the sideline, cut inside on two players and laid it off in the middle to senior Connor Brennan. Brennan has had an impressive season and his hard work paid off when he sent the ball into the net for the game’s first goal.
The teams went to the break separated by only that goal. The next frame opened with missed chances on both sides. Senior captain Ben Taber made a series of outstanding defensive stops that gave H-K little or no chance of finding the net. Senior midfielder Matt Schock gave Coginchaug a little breathing room with a rebounding-put-back shot, but the 2-0 lead did not last long. H-K found an attacker open on the wing and put the ball in the net to cut the lead to 2-1.
Recent games saw the Devils allow doubt to creep in and early leads have turned to late losses. Not on this day. Senior captain Kyle Dupre and senior Dylan Slomkowski connected perfectly on a series of small passes that resulted in Dylan breaking loose on the outside of the penalty box. He ripped a highlight reel shot that dipped in right under the far upper corner of the net and just passed the out stretched reach of the leaping goalie.
Two goal leads have not been kind to CRHS this year. It was time for another captain to step up. Alan Haberern was that player. He had been having an excellent game winning balls on both ends of the pitch, and making plays. He wasn’t about to let another lead slip away; late in the period he sealed the win by receiving the ball in the middle of field just outside the box, beat the defender and used his signature left footed Howitzer shot to put the ball in the back of the net to complete the 4-1 victory.
The next game was at home against another perennial adversary – the North Branford Knights. On this day it was Senior captain Kyle Dupre who wasted no time converting in just the 4th minute of the match. The end-to-end play started with a North Branford shot and a save by junior goalkeeper Jeff Cummings. He quickly got up and sent the ball out wide to the waiting Jeff Peracchio. Jeff settled the ball, looked up and found midfielder Alan Haberern. Alan hit some traffic, but muscled the ball loose, cut back to space and poked it to forward to the breaking Dupre. From that point on it was sheer determination. Kyle dribbled the box towards the net and took aim at the far post. The shot was blocked by the defender but Kyle recovered his own rebound and out hustled the goalie to the ball.
The rest of the game was a battle with CRHS holding tight to the slim 1 goal lead. A defensive miscue allowed the ball to slip past Cummings in the final minute of the game, forcing overtime. The match ended knotted at 1-1.
Coach Chris Cap was naturally disappointed, but saw the positive side of the week’s results, “I’m happy with this week’s results; 4 points out of 6 is not bad. But we could use those 2 points.” [Referring to the points system used to determine post-season eligibility where a win equals 3 points and a tie counts as 1.] I inquired further about what the team needs and he added “I would rather just run the table and not have to worry about it.” But outside of that scenario, the team needs a minimum of 1 win and 1 draw in its remaining matches to qualify. Of those remaining matches, two were against top ranked Valley Regional.
Regarding the team’s play against H-K and North Branford, Coach commented that were elements of each game that he liked but noted, “Our inconsistent play is what's killing us. We can't let a team stay around and not put them away. It will hurt us every time.”
Consistency was what coach asked for, and what the team delivered against the aforementioned Valley Regional on Monday. But Valley proved that you don’t get to the top of Class S with a record of 11-0-1 by accident. Valley put on a display of talent, speed and ball control. Coginchaug gave them all they had and made it a game to remember on senior day at CRHS. The starting line-up consisted of senior forwards Dylan Slomkowski and Kyle Dupre and senior midfielders Alan Haberern, Connor Bates, Mike Lisitano and Connor Brennan. The senior defenders were Ben Taber, Matt Schock, Doug Hanley and Bobby Jungles. The line-up was rounded out with junior Goalie Jeff Cummings. This line-up came out fighting, and held their own to open the match and seemed to knock Valley off their game temporarily.
CRHS drew first blood when they brought a corner kick to life the way it’s drawn up on the coach’s clipboard. Connor Bates put the ball high to the top of the box out of the keeper’s range and Bobby Jungles did the rest. Leaping well over the defenders he redirected the ball just under the crossbar with power. Valley was shocked. They came to Durham having scored 40 goals in 11 matches and in the same span had relented a paltry 5. 7 of their 11 games were clean sheets. It’s likely that they had rarely, if ever, been trailing in any of those matches. The home crowd and players were energized.
Valley did what good teams do. They returned fire with not one, but 2 goals to return to their accustomed position – the lead.
The Blue Devils played with heart, and they needed a captain to step up again and make it worth their effort. This time two such players stood up. Ben Taber did what he’s been doing with increasing proficiency as each game unfolded. He outran the faster players, he out smarted the clever ones, he stopped the balls he needed to stop and he gave the team his heart. All this with his now familiar quiet strength; without a negative word toward his teammates, without the all-too-common boastfulness seen in other star players (on other teams, naturally!), and without malice towards the opposition. Always with the utmost sportsmanship, in fact, in most cases, without a foul being called against him. But it’s the goal scorers who make the headlines, and Captain Kyle Dupre was the other captain to step up. He tied the game at 2 with sheer hustle, as he did with his goal against North Branford. With pressure applied to the defense by junior Tyler Kovacs, Valley attempted to play the ball back to their keeper. Kyle anticipated the play and ran on to the ball and put a touch on it just before the keeper arrived and rolled it in for the equalizer. The grandstand rumbled with excitement.
Sadly, for the home team, Valley went back on top a short time later, and the teams went to the halftime break with Valley holding on to the one goal lead.
The second half was contested furiously by both teams. It was exciting and fun to watch with great scoring chances and excellent defense on both sides. The stars for CRHS were Ben Taber, Alan Haberern, Matt Schock and Jeff Cummings had one of the best games of his high school career. Despite the defensive effort, Valley scored again with just over seven minutes left to play.
Coach Cap was again positive after the match, “I was happy with the effort out there, definitely the best game we’ve played as a team.” He added that although he saw some defensive mistakes that allowed Valley to capitalize, “if we continue to play the way we did against Valley, we’ll make a nice run at the end of the season and be able to qualify for the tournament.”
Coach also called attention to the play of Matt Schock, “he had a great game for us, and Connor Brennan did a nice job. We moved him back to a position he wasn’t familiar with and he really stepped up.” In fact, “all of the seniors stepped up for Senior day and I was really proud of them.” I commented about the move with Brennan paying off and he agreed but joked that he was happier “putting Bobby in for the corner kick!”
As far as the tournament goes, “we need to find a couple wins out of these last few games, I definitely feel we can do that, we just need to keep the intensity and consistency up.”
Although the Middletown Press had some of the names wrong, there are some nice photos in online and can be seen by clicking here.
[NOTE: I will add Highlights from the Valley game soon, please click the follow comments button to be alerted when they are posted. There will also be video from the CRHS Girls JV vs North Branford.]
CRHS Girls Varsity
After losing to H-K on the road, the girls have put together a string of 3 straight home wins against North Branford, Morgan and Valley. Today's Senior day win clinched a tournament berth.