— CT Sports Now (@CT_Sports_Now) November 9, 2018
MIDDLETOWN — The postseason is not a time for a team to lose its sense of urgency. Yet it happened with Xavier on Thursday and spelled the end to the Falcons’ 17-win soccer season.
After a scoreless regulation, Greenwich broke through on Christopher Cruz’s goal in the 82nd minute to beat the top-seeded Falcons 1-0 in overtime in the CIAC Class LL tournament’s second round at Larry McHugh Field.
“I don’t think the urgency set in until we went down,” Xavier coach Brian Fitzgerald said. “There were glimmers.”
There weren’t nearly enough. Xavier (17-2-1) went 15-0-1 in the regular season, the best record of any SCC team, only to lose in the final seven seconds of the conference tournament final.
Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam has been in Fitzgerald’s shoes — a No. 1 seed, under pressure to prove its tournament standing, facing a battle-tested opponent thought to be much better than its record.
“I’ve gotta be honest, it’s a tough way for a team to lose,” Putnam said. “And I’ve been there as a 16-0 team going out in the first round. I know what it’s like. A tough pill to swallow for sure.”
The 16-seed Cardinals (11-3-4) were playing their second match in 24 hours following a 2-0 first-round win over Shelton. Now, they get a shot at the No. 8 seed, defending Class LL champion Glastonbury, in the quarterfinals on the road.
“The one thing to be honest, we only get relatively few straightforward games in the FCIAC. Everything else is a battle and a grind,” Putnam said. “On other days this might have gone the other way (for Xavier). There’s really not much to separate the two teams.”
Greenwich was working the ball on the right side of its half in the opening minutes of overtime when Daniel Bourgeois crossed a pass to the middle. Teammate David Pedreiro feigned as if he was going to play it, but let it go through to Cruz. Cruz, who was unmarked near the 18, blasted the ball out of Xavier keeper Christian Wade’s reach, just inside the left post.
“There was a little bit of brilliance there because (Pedreiro) dummed it, and it was a first-time finish,” Putnam said. “The shot probably goes in maybe one out of five times. The other four times it’s over the bar, it’s wide or the keeper saves it, or sometimes the kid doesn’t even thing about dummying it.
“Sometimes it’s those little differences that separate teams to win it.”
Greenwich outshot Xavier and controlled play in the midfield for the most part. Had Xavier converted an excellent scoring chance in the waning seconds of the first half, maybe the momentum of a lead would have carried it through the second half.
Instead, a hard-charging Fabian Morales came in from the right side and crossed a close-range shot in front of goalkeeper James Johnson, who left his feet and stretched parallel to the ground to deflect it.
“Their goalie made an unbelievable stop,” Fitzgerald said.
Like Xavier’s chance, Greenwich could have ended it as the final seconds of regulation wound down. A throw-in to the edge of the penalty box found the foot of a Cardinals player, but Wade knocked it away with 3 seconds left.
“A world-class save by their keeper,” Putnam said.
This season was a major turnaround for Fitzgerald’s Falcons, whose last four seasons resulted in five, four, six and five wins. The senior talent on this year’s team will give way to a number of varsity-tested underclassmen.
“I thank the seniors for everything they’ve given us for four years,” Fitzgerald said. “As far as the younger guys, they have to remember what it took to get here and think about what they’re going to do to put in the extra work to get us back here.”