LITCHFIELD — Immaculate’s speed, aggressiveness and an effective game plan beat Litchfield 2-1 in a Class S boys soccer second-round match at Litchfield High School Wednesday afternoon.
The No. 15 Mustangs (10-5-3), still young after losing to No. 2 Litchfield (12-3-2) in the quarterfinals a year ago, came determined to do two things Wednesday: control the ball and keep it away from Cowboy star Tim Donovan as much as possible.
The plan worked from the outset. Tristian Dinitale, one of just four seniors on the team, had two open shots in the first four minutes.
Litchfield didn’t get across midfield for the first six.
“We wanted to make the field as small as possible so (Donovan) wouldn’t have room to run,” said Mustang coach Steve Carneiro.
Donovan, a junior on his way to a seemingly-impassable goal-scoring record at Litchfield, did spring loose for a shot in the 13th minute on a pass forward from Aidan Donahue. Immaculate goalkeeper Nick Iannetta just got to that one. The Cowboys got off just five more shots in the game.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs had plenty — 19 — though their first goal had help. Freshman Connor Sahl sent a shot bounding over Litchfield keeper Erik Tieman in the box.
Sophomore David Chomiak got a head on it, glanced it off a defender’s chest and into the net.
“That’s what we’re trained to do — just keep driving in,” Chomiak said.
“Young teams make young mistakes,” said Litchfield coach Rob Andrulis, missing some of last year’s key pieces with only four seniors of his own.
For all but the last 57 seconds of the first half, it was clearly Immaculate’s game to win. Three more great chances narrowly missed — wide left by Dinitale and free kicks from either side of the box by Nick Lenz and Chomiak.
Donovan, with just one team shot, became all too familiar with a big Mustang freshman on his heels.
“(Michael Iannetta) is a basketball player who’s shut down a lot of top soccer players in the (South-West Conference),” said Coach Carneiro. “When we were talking about marking Donovan, probably the best player in the state, he said, ‘I want to do it.’”
“I tried to keep him in front of me and force him left,” said Iannetta. “And I knew I always had help behind me.”
Iannetta was a looming shadow. Help was always close, ready to collapse on Donovan when he got the ball.
“They had like a basketball box-and-one around him,” said Litchfield coach Andrulis. “When they put five guys on him, you’ve got to get it to someone else.”
But too often for Litchfield fans, the problem was getting and keeping the ball at all.
Still, Donovan almost always finds a way. This time, with 57 seconds left in the half, he got open on the near post for a perfect corner kick from Luke Parsons, flicking it into the goal behind him for a 1-1 tie.
Undaunted, the Mustangs worked their game plan just as well in the second half as they did in the first.
Litchfield goalie Tieman (13 saves) made two nice plays in the first five minutes. In the 14th, Dinitale sent a ball forward to Hunter Kirkman on a run past Litchfield’s defenders. Tieman advanced; Kirkman skirted him, sending home the winning goal.
“We won because of you,” Carneiro said to Iannetta. “And thanks to the big schools in the SWC who toughened us up on us on our way.”
The Mustangs earn a home game in Friday’s quarterfinals, hosting Old Lyme, winners over No. 10 Montville and No. 7 Hale Ray in the first two rounds.