MIDDLETOWN .>> This one was over early.
Fifth-seeded Cromwell scored just one minute and 37 seconds into the match, then added two more first-half goals to beat No. 2 Bolton 3-0 and win the CIAC Class S boys soccer championship in front of 1,200 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium at Middletown High School Saturday afternoon.
For much of the first half, and all of the second, the Cromwell defense led by tournament Most Valuable Player goalkeeper Ryan Murphy, stifled the Bolton offense. The Bulldogs actually had a 14-7 shot advantage, but three of Cromwell’s first four shots resulted in goals.
“We knew Bolton could score and that they were very dangerous,” said Cromwell coach Jon Harder. “We were able to weather the storm; we didn’t fold or buckle under their pressure.”
Bolton had 11 shots in the first half, but could get nothing past Murphy who had nine saves in the game. With 25 minutes left in the half, Murphy knocked one shot away and the rebound shot by Bolton tipped off the crossbar. With 48 seconds left in the half, Murphy went high to tip a shot over the crossbar to keep Bolton off the board.
“We played very well,” said Bolton coach Brian Dube. “We possessed the ball, but we had trouble cracking through. Their keeper made great saves. To me, he’s the player of the match.”
Murphy saved his best for late in the match, making a brilliant leaping save to stop a shot by Christian Ruiz with 13:45 left to play.
“I don’t know how I made that,” said Murphy. “I just jumped and I had the ball. I didn’t believe I had it at first. Winning the championship is the main thing. It’s nice to be MVP, but it’s much better to win the title.”
The Panthers (16-4-1) scored with 38:23 to go in the first half when Justin Grant headed it in off a pass from Dylan Davis. Grant assisted on the next goal, sending a cross from the right side to Derek Parker with 21:33 left to make it 2-0.
Cromwell put the game away with 4:18 left in the half when Ardit Statovci stole the ball about 20 yards out and nailed it past Bolton keeper Jack Langton, who had no chance.
“Scoring early was huge,” said Harder. “We have never scored that early, so this was foreign ground for us. At halftime I just told the kids to keep playing hard and keep playing our game, which we did.”
Dube had much the same halftime message for his team.
“I just told our kids to keep doing what we were doing,” he said. “It’s frustrating to do what you want to do but the ball doesn’t go into the net. But I’m happy that we played very hard. I don’t think we could have played any better.”
The title is Harder’s second.
“Comparing titles is like comparing your children,” he said. “In 2009 we were a defensive team and that day we stole a goal to win 1-0. This team is totally different.”
Langton had three saves for Bolton which finished 15-3-2.
The state championship is the fourth for Cromwell.