NEW BRITAIN — Lewis Mills’ boys soccer team is headed to the Class M state final for the program’s first time in 17 years after a 1-0 semifinal win over Ellington at New Britain’s Willow Brook Park Wednesday night.
The No. 2 Spartans (18-0-1) pounded on No. 6 Ellington’s doorstep in a dominant first half, then broke through in the second with a wide-open play after the Knights evened out the field.
“It should have been 2-0 after the really good chances we had early in the first half,” Mills coach Ben Kulas said.
Lewis Mills, whose seniors endured three straight losses by eventual state champions, including Ellington in 2014, pressured the Knights (15-4) from the beginning with numbers in the box and perfect corner kicks.
Three minutes into the game, senior Matt Gilbert just missed in close. Three minutes later, two Spartans couldn’t get to another perfect shot into the box.
For the rest of the half, Ellington keeper Mitch LaForge plunged into or leaped above the crowd to steal golden opportunities away.
“In the first half, we barely created any chances,” Ellington coach Roy Gurnon said. “In the second, we were more patient. We put some pressure on them.”
But Ellington pressure came with a more wide open field for Mills.
Seconds after Zack Kindall put a shot over Mills’ net 28 minutes into the period, the Spartans raced back downfield, firing a pinball series of passes: a Brady Fox cannon ahead to his left; a header back right from Nate King; a whiplash strike into the net from Gilbert from the right wing.
“It took a little while to figure out their style,” Fox said. “We might have played wide open earlier, but the goal is to get here.”
“It’s a play we practice every day — heading it back over,” King said.
“You just have to hit it right on the spot. There’s no time to think about it,” Gilbert added.
Still, 12 minutes left with a 1-0 lead against a team like Ellington is forever.
While his teammates cleared shots to the far corners, Mills keeper Jackson Lord had his biggest moments up close.
Ellington’s John Chamberland pounded a shot at him with 10 minutes left. With six left, Lord waded through a crowd in front of his net, batting a shot forward. With five left, one header sailed by him; he caught the return.
The final Knight shot was a long one by James Maznicki. Lord fielded it on the fly.
“You always remember the final — win, lose or tie,” said Kulas, who won one and lost one as a Mills player in 1997 and 2000.
Saturday, the Spartans build their own memories at a time and place to be announced against No. 5 Suffield, Tuesday’s 4-1 winners over No. 1 Granby.
No. 2 Lewis Mills 1, No. 6 Ellington 0
At Willow Brook Park, New Britain
Ellington0 0 — 0
Lewis Mills0 1 — 1
Goal: LM — Matt Gilbert. Assists: LM — Brady Fox; Nate King. Shots: 8-7 Lewis Mills. Saves: E — Mitchell LaForge 4; LM — Jackson Lord 5.
Records: Ellington 15-4; Lewis Mills 18-0-1.