FAIRFIELD >> Very few, if any, prognosticators would have selected a Shelton-Danbury soccer semifinal in the bottom half of the Class LL state tournament draw.
Not with unbeatens Greenwich and Trumbull, the FCIAC co-champs, in that half of the draw.
“I think everyone was surprised when Greenwich and Trumbull lost on the weekend,” Danbury coach Anthony Howard said. “I think everyone expected them to be in the semifinals.”
The Hatters will be the lone FCIAC representative in Saturday’s finals, taking a hard-fought 4-2 victory over the SCC tournament champions at Fairfield Ludlowe’s Taft Field.
“It was one of the craziest games we had all year and it was well-fought,” Danbury co-captain Kevin Spennato said. “The boys came in here and we just took it to them.”
The Hatters (15-3-4) reach their first state final since 1998, thanks to three second-half goals. They will face No. 4 Farmington in the title game Saturday at a site and time to be announced.
“It goes to show you hard work pays off,” Spennato said. “Now we are in the finals and Greenwich and Trumbull are sitting at home.”
The Gaels (18-4-1), who won back-to-back SCC tournament titles, had beaten two league opponents before coming from behind on the road to knock off previously-unbeaten Greenwich in the quarterfinals last Saturday.
But Shelton comes up one game short of reaching its first final in school history.
“Especially for some of these senior captains, they wanted it more than anything,” Shelton coach Joe D’Auria said after completing is 13th year with the program. “It’s amazing what they wanted. I never felt that before with any other group.”
The Gaels did have a couple of scoring opportunities early in the second half, but Danbury goalkeeper David Mollenthiel made a pair of diving saves to keep the game tied at 1.
It took nearly 25 minutes for the Hatters to break the deadlock, off a corner kick that was knocked into the goal by a Shelton player, but credited to Felipe Alves. Spennato scored 2 minutes later to make it 3-1 Danbury.
Mikey Sciortino cut the deficit in half for the Gaels with 10:27 left. But Danbury made sure there would be no comeback effort by the Gaels this time. Chris Sari scored with 2:14 left to seal it for the Hatters.
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) November 16, 2016
“The more open the game gets, the more it benefits us,” Howard said. “We have some skillful players. We’ve got a few players who like to attack. When teams start coming as us, we suck up the pressure and try to counter-punch and it has worked for us.”
Said D’Auria: “Their midfield played stronger than ours and that was the difference.”
The two first-half goals were scored within a minute of one another. Danbury scored first as Kaike Nascilmento made good on almost a 90-degree angle, lofting the ball over Shelton keeper Isaac Garcia’s head into the back corner of the net.
Shelton co-captain Kyle Gill got the equalizer 51 seconds later.
“Ninety percent of the time, they (Shelton) were at a good rate, wanted to play, wanted to train, wanted to prepare, wanted to work for this moment,” D’Auria said. “That’s why it was an honor to coach these guys.”
Danbury 4, Shelton 0
Danbury 1 3 — 4
Shelton 0 0 — 0
First half—DN: Kaike Nascimento 7:01; SHE: Kyle Gill 7:52; Second half—DN: own goal ; Kevin Spennato ; SHE: Mikey Sciortino ; DN: Chris Sari ;
Shots—DN: 10; SHE: 7;
Saves—DN: David Mollenthiel 3; SHE: Isaac Garcia 2;
Records—Danbury 15-3-4; Shelton 18-4-1