COVENTRY >> They were Class S finalists a year ago. And Coventry has shown in three impressive tournament wins that they have enough firepower to get back to the state championship game.
The third-seeded Patriots (16-3-3) took control midway through the first half and defeated No. 11 Cromwell, 2-0, in the Class S quarterfinals Saturday at the Larry Pietrantonio Athletic Complex. Coventry will meet No. 10 Valley Regional in Tuesday’s semifinal at Falcon Field (Meriden).
Junior Zach Stoddard and senior Jared Cote scored goals in each half, while senior keeper Chris Papas wasn’t challenged in a dominating defensive performance for Coventry.
“It’s a good group,” said Coventry coach Paul Strycharz, now in his second season. “They’re motivated and ready to play. We’re going to stick to one step at a time. We don’t look ahead too far but we know where we want to be, that’s for sure.”
Coventry outshot the Panthers, 11-1. The Patriots also forced 11 corner kicks, while Cromwell garnered just one.
“They were definitely the best team that we played against this year,” Cromwell coach Cliff Parker said. “It took us awhile to settle in but we just couldn’t put any pressure on them. They were very strong all over the field.”
Coventry, which was coming off shutout wins over Sacred Heart and East Windsor, started creating scoring chances around the 20th minute. And those opportunities came in waves.
Sean Gannon nearly knocked in a header off a well placed corner kick from Alec Erskine. Erskine then drilled a shot from close range that Cromwell senior keeper Nick Gentile punched away with a leaping save. Stoddard one-timed a shot that just missed wide.
Finally, Stoddard perfectly timed a Gannon direct kick and headed it past Gentile for a 1-0 advantage in the 32nd minute.
“They work great together,” Strycharz said. “Zach is the smallest guy on the field but has the biggest heart. He wins just about every header he goes up for. I don’t know what the stats are but usually the smallest guy on the field is not supposed to win those headers. He finds a way to do it.
The Patriots added a huge insurance goal when senior Jared Cote won a bouncing ball up front and chipped it into the net for a 2-0 lead in the 50th minute.
“We play a lot better, obviously, when we’re ahead…every team does,” Strycharz added. “But we really settled back and started to play beautiful soccer once we get one goal.”
Gentile finished with five saves, including a pair of key stops late when Coventry continued to apply pressure.
“They had a lot of firepower,” Parker said. “The second half we played better and then they got the second goal. We didn’t put a lot of pressure on them. We battled hard. At 2-0 if we got a goal we could have gotten right back into it.”
Cromwell (11-7-2) reached the quarterfinals with stirring wins over Immaculate-Danbury and Morgan. Senior Jake Pendl’s overtime goal lifted the Panthers past Immaculate and sophomore JJ Tracy had the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win over the Huskies.
“Last year we got to the second round and this year with the boys we kept saying we wanted to do better,” Parker said. “The kids worked hard. We’re very proud of them. We had a very good season.”