WEST HAVEN >> The Shelton boys soccer team couldn’t score a goal in two regular-season matchups against Fairfield Prep, its new SCC Hammonasset Division rival.
But the Gaels found a way to break through against Prep Thursday night in the most important game of the season to date: the SCC tournament final.
Nicola LoBello’s second-half goal stood up for second-seeded Shelton in a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Fairfield Prep at West Haven High.
“I think the two losses to Prep hung with us as a team,” Shelton senior defender Ethan Shuster said. “We took that to heart and got better as a result. … We lost eight starters from last year. This was unexpected.”
The Gaels (15-3-1) successfully defended their SCC tournament title in a matchup featuring the last two tournament winners.
“It’s big, it’s big,” Shelton coach Joe D’Auria said. Coming into this, I told them they had all the pressure on them because they were the defending champions. These guys had our number, let’s face it.”
Said Prep coach Ryan Lyddy: “I think tonight was men against boys, to tell you the truth. They were more competitive than we were,. I think we stayed poised to a certain degree. … Now we try and make a run in the state tournament and see what happens.”
For LoBello, it was an opportunity to play in a final for the first time. The senior forward missed last year’s win over West Haven due to a concussion.
“It was a tough time, but we won now, so that’s all that really matters to me,” LoBello said.
Fairfield Prep keeper Dan Szabo likes to come out of goal to intercept passes, get to loose balls before they become dangerous situations. But he couldn’t get to the cross that Mikey Sciortino sent LoBello’s way.
“I went up for the opportunity, a 50-50 ball. The goalie didn’t grab it, saw the ball on the floor and just kicked it in,” LoBello said.
Said Lyddy: “I think what happened it was a mental error (for Szabo). For him being as solid as he has been all year, I will take one mistake.”
The goal came with 27:49 left in the game. The Gaels held Prep to just two shot attempts the rest of the way.
But on one of them, Shuster made the play of the game. On a ball destined to tie the game in the final minutes, Shuster’s bicycle kick from just in front of the net kept Shelton ahead.
“As a defender, I always watch my keeper’s back,” Shuster said. “I saw he (Biagio Paoletta) was about to head it and as he was heading it, I turned around, saw it and connected. It was reflexes.”
Said D’Auria: “He’s the last kid on the field I thought would’ve done that because he is a big defender and for him to get that versatile in the air is amazing. Shuster’s been great for us all year.”
This was the seventh appearance in a SCC final for the Jesuits (11-4-4).
“This will make us tougher for the state tournament,” Lyddy said. “You can’t dwell on it. You have to move forward.”
Shelton 1, Fairfield Prep 0
(at West Haven)
Fairfield Prep 0 0 — 0
Shelton 0 1 — 1
Second half—SHE: Nicola Lobello 52:11;
Shots—FP: 5; SHE: 5;
Saves—FP: Dan Szabo 2; SHE: Isaac Garcia 2;
Records—Fairfield Prep 11-4-4; Shelton 15-3-1