Cromwell boys soccer huddles prior to overtime against Old Saybrook in the Class S semifinals
Cromwell’s semifinal game against Old Saybrook was a mirror image of their 2019 season, reflecting the valleys and peaks the team experienced this fall.
A sluggish start, a strong second half, and ultimately coming up a little short of a trip to the finals.
#5 Old Saybrook, the defending Class S champions, held off the #9 Panthers last Tuesday at Jonathan Law High School in Milford to advance to their second straight state title.
Shon Ryan scored on a penalty kick in overtime, providing the rival Rams a 4-3 lead, which proved to be the game-winner and ending a roller coaster of a game, and season, for first-year head coach Angelo Morello and his resilient Panthers.
Morello address his exhausted team following the loss, telling them it was a pleasure to coach them and thanked them for leaving it all on the field during the 100-minute marathon.
For the first forty minutes of action Old Saybrook completely controlled the tempo, scoring two first-half goals and negating a Panthers offense that had scored nine goals over the first three rounds of the tournament.
Gannon Efinger banged one in front close range ten minutes into the game and Colin Shumeister made it 2-0 when he advanced the ball off his chest before firing the ball past Cromwell goalie James Grodzicki.
“They came off the field and were frustrated. They were on each other and that’s one thing that I didn’t want,” Morello said of his team’s mindset at the half, “We were just losing all the 50-50 balls so we made some slight adjustments, but it was the kids that did it. They played hard.”
With their season on the brink, Cromwell came out of halftime with a renewed sense of urgency. The game got increasingly more physical and Morello got a yellow card from the official, which seemed to fire up his team even more.
Offensive magician Anthony Caracoglia scored seven minutes into the second half when he booted a lefty kick to the right corner of the net, cutting the deficit in half.
Shulmeister counter with his second goal, a header following a perfect corner kick from Ryan, increasing the lead to 3-1.
However, as they had done all year, the battle-tested Panthers clawed their way back in.
Caracoglia hammered home a penalty kick at the 17-minute mark and then delivered an amazing sliding cross to Zach Randazzo, who sent home a game-tying goal with 13:06 to play in regulation.
“We went from our normal 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. I just needed to open up a little more space in the middle of the field and for our top,” Morello said about the tactical adjustment he made for the second half, “They were double and triple teaming Anthony, so we wanted to get Zach free. Zach is a dangerous, you can see that on that tying goal. We were getting beat to a lot of balls in the first half, so having Logan (Fox) in the middle really helped us.”
Fox nearly gave the Panthers the lead, but his shot sailed just high after working a perfect give-and-go with Caracoglia in the waning minutes of regulation.
Ryan’s game-winner came three minutes into overtime after colliding with a Cromwell defender in front of the net. It was a call that could have gone either way and it marked the second time in a few weeks that Cromwell lost to Old Saybrook on a penalty kick, also losing in the Shoreline tourney (1-0) on a similar call.
“[The kids] deserve better than this, but a call is a call. We’ll live with it,” stated Morello, whose team also fell to Old Saybrook (4-1) in the regular season on Oct 4.
Morello’s first season on the sidelines didn’t end with a title shot, yet it showed that the program has the tenacity and toughness to work through any adversity.
The Panthers won only two of their first seven games this fall before finishing as the one of the hottest teams heading into the tournament, winning seven of eight late in the regular season.
A turning point came when Morello shook things up following a 4-1 loss to Coginchaug on Sept 24, “The Coginchaug game we got whipped up pretty good and we had to make a tactical change. We went to that 4-2-3-1 formation, and it worked.”
Not only was the new alignment successful in the regular season but it carried over into the postseason where they fought though the first three round of the state tournament, knocking out Northwest Catholic, Housatonic, and top-seed Canton.
Morello credited his senior captains with helping turn the season around.
“They’re just unbelievable. Once I got hired, they contacted me. They wanted more team unity and it definitely showed this year. They were great leaders, they brought the team together, and they all loved each other. It’s a great bunch of boys and everybody felt welcomed, from freshmen coming in, to the guys that were already here. Everybody felt part of this team and it’s due to those seniors.”
Caracoglia, who scored a mind-blowing ten goals in the four tournament games, is one of the departing captains, along with defensive stud Carter Newman and Patrick Stafstrom.
“Losing Anthony, that’s 32 goals. From afar his freshman year I saw this kid and he was getting playing time and you could see the talent and Carter Newman is a rock solid in the back, he lit a fire on our defense. Patrick played well on the wing and so did Matt (Sabriglio) on the right side. They will be missed along with the four role players on the bench that didn’t get a lot of time, but they were just as important as anyone else. Their leadership was important because we have a young team. They bought in and it’s been fun.”
Heading his second year, Morello will have six starters coming back next fall, including Randazzo, Fox, and Grodzicki, who Morello praised for his work in goal this season.
Following the elimination of Cromwell, Old Saybrook successful defended their crown by defeating #3 Holy Cross (3-1) in overtime at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, winning a second straight Class S championship.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin