LITCHFIELD — Nonnewaug and Litchfield boys soccer played to a 1-1 overtime tie Wednesday afternoon in a game reflecting how close the Berkshire League is at its talented top.
Second-place Northwestern (9-2-2) gave first-place Lewis Mills (12-0-1) its only blemish in a 1-1 tie a month ago. Fourth-place Nonnewaug (8-3-3) beat the Highlanders 1-0 last week.
Third-place Litchfield (9-4-1) won at Nonnewaug (2-0) for the first time since 2007 last month, then had two golden opportunities against Mills before losing just 1-0 last Friday.
Nonnewaug’s and Litchfield’s defenses have given up more than one goal in a game just five times this season.
A see-saw battle at Litchfield’s Plum Hill Sports Complex was inevitable.
The Chiefs’ deeper bench did its best to deny the inevitable in a first half of pressure —10 shots to four for the Cowboys.
Nevertheless, it took five minutes for either team to get off its first shot – a 20-yarder from Litchfield’s Charlie Shanks to Nonnewaug goalkeeper Connor Hanggi (six saves) – and five more minutes before Dean Jones blasted Nonnewaug’s first shot at Cowboy keeper Colby Bunnell (eight saves).
The Nonnewaug pressure built from there.
Fifteen minutes in, Jake Willis sent a Nonnewaug corner kick into the Litchfield box. In a pinball scramble, Dan Swanson got a head on it before Bunnell could get to it. Sophomore Josh Cheatham put the goal into Bunnell’s vacated net.
“We had to rebuild this year,” said Cheatham, a Nonnewaug sophomore.
“Some games, you’ve got to work harder than others,” said Swanson, a senior.
The Cowboys came back from the goal with an offensive flurry, highlighted by an open Shanks shot just deflected past the goal by Hanggi.
Down 1-0, the Cowboys came out with new energy in the second half.
“We talked about owning our own field,” Cowboy coach Rob Andrulis said.
Nevertheless, 30 minutes of opportunities just added to the star quality of both keepers and their defenses — a deflection by Hanggi two minutes in; a diving deflection by Bunnell in the ninth; a defensive cutoff of a near Litchfield breakaway in the 13th.
Ten minutes from the end of regulation, Litchfield’s Carson Mello scored the tie in a goal much like Nonnewaug’s in the first half.
Persistence counted again as Litchfield freshman Timmy Donovan blasted a shot off Hanggi. Mello bulled through for the rebound into the corner of the net.
“We’re actually a year ahead of where I thought we’d be,” said Andrulis, looking to a crop of freshmen expected to strengthen his bench.
“We had a disappointing season last year,” said Shanks, a junior. “We’ve bonded as a group.”
“We spent the first part of this season getting things organized,” Mello said. “We’ve grown as a team.”
Wednesday’s struggle, so typical at the top of the league this year, might predict further growth for all four teams in this year’s state tournaments.
NONNEWAUG 1, LITCHFIELD 1 (OT)
NONNEWAUG 10 0 0—1
LITCHFIELD 0 1 0 0—1
Records: Nonnewaug 8-3-3; Litchfield 9-4-1. Goals: N—Josh Cheatham. L—Carson Mello. Assists: N —Daniel Swanson. L—Timmy Donovan. Shots: 16-9 Nonnewaug. Saves: N—Connor Hanggi 6. L—Colby Bunnell 8.