GUILFORD >> Cromwell High School bills itself as The Home of Champions. The school is justified as there are state championship banners in all kinds of sports hanging all over the Jake Salafia Gym.
Come Saturday, the school might have to find room for one more.
That’s because the Panthers’ boys soccer team defeated Lyme/Old Lyme 1-0 in a brilliantly played, take no prisoners Class S semifinal game played at Guilford High School Wednesday evening.
“That was a great game,” said Cromwell coach Jon Harder. “Both sides played as best as they could.
It was a game in which the officials let them play and bodies flew all over the place as defenses dominated and keepers made good, sometimes terrific, saves.
The game remained scoreless until there was just 5:15 left in the match. Cromwell’s Derek Parker took a pass from Ardit Statovci and shot at the Wildcats’ goal. The ball hit keeper Spencer Saunders, popped up the air and Parker headed it in over the prone Saunders, touching off a wild celebration among the hundreds of Cromwell fans who made the trip.
“About 10 minutes in I told my assistant coach this was going to be a one-goal game,” said Harder. “It just felt like that. We got a little lucky on our goal and that’s not to take anything away from our effort, which was great.
“But our shot bounced off the keeper and that’s all there was to it. The game can be very cruel at times as you can play very well and still lose.”
Harder thought his defense was the key.
“Our defense helped us win this game,” he said. “If we don’t cover the pitch the way we did, we give up a couple of goals. Our weakness all year has been on our flanks. But over the last two weeks we’ve worked on shutting down the flanks and tonight we were nearly flawless.”
Cromwell had 11 shots to Lyme/Old Lyme’s six. Cromwell dominated play for much of the first half and had numerous opportunities. In one 10 minute stretch with 32 minutes showing until 22 minutes were left, the Panthers had three good shots and two corner kicks, but Saunders and the Wildcats’ defense was up to the task.
“I thought our keeper Ryan Murphy was phenomenal,” said Harder. “He’s been great all season and he deserves recognition for that effort and especially for tonight.”
Murphy’s highlight reel save came with 14:20 left in the game when he made a kick save on a shot that looked for all the world like a goal.
Murphy ended up with three saves while Saunders had five.
The game was revenge for Cromwell in that Lyme/Old Lyme beat the Panthers 2-1 in overtime in the final regular season game to deny Cromwell the Shoreline Conference regular season championship.
But on Saturday, there will be a bigger championship at stake.
Cromwell will play Bolton at Middletown High Saturday. Bolton beat Valley 2-1.
Lyme/Old Lyme finished at 12-5-3, Cromwell is 15-4-1.