WINSTED >> Northwestern’s and Lewis Mills’ boys soccer teams played to their second overtime 0-0 game of the season Tuesday afternoon at Northwestern High School.
Mills, on top of the 10-team Berkshire League at 9-0-4, has out-scored its opponents 38-5. No other team has kept the Spartans out of the net.
Northwestern, in third place, leads its collective opponents 24-13. The Highlanders have scored against every other team but Mills.
Tuesday, the two teams proved what a solid effort it takes to do that to each other twice.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” said Mills coach Ben Kulas.
“They never allowed us to get into a rhythm,” echoed Highlander coach Andy Campbell.
A soccer shutout usually requires a stellar goalkeeper. This game had two, Mills’ Alexander Daigle (6 saves) and Northwestern’s Palmer Piana (22 saves).
“Their goalie played phenomenally,” said Coach Kulas.
So did Daigle, in the role of opposing no-hit pitchers.
This game, even the referees, Art Hamm and Gregg Hunt, were stellar.
“Art and Gregg are two of the best. They’re always in position,” said Coach Campbell.
After 80 minutes of getting every off-sides call right, making all the right decisions – “play on!” -for fouls that would change the game’s momentum unfairly, the final proof came a minute into the first half of overtime.
Mills pushed the ball in from a melee in front of Northwestern’s net. Hunt was right there, spotting a Mills hand ball on the play, negating the goal.
“In a game like this, you have to get every call right,” said Hamm.
Despite the disappointment – especially for the Spartans, who dominated the first half – everyone involved had to get it right this game.
“We’ve played better at times, but we’ve never had a better sustained effort for 90 minutes,” said Coach Campbell.
In the first half, a Mills goal seemed inevitable. In the second half and overtime, the 0-0 tie seemed written in stone.
Mills out-shot Northwestern 10-3 in the first half, but the Spartans were their own worst critics.
“We tried to play over the top instead of to feet. That didn’t work,” said goalkeeper Daigle.
“We played a better style in the second half,” said Coach Kulas.
“We elevated our work rate in the second half,” said Coach Campbell.
Mills’ first-half dash for a goal started two minutes into the game.
Senior Ryan Finley had a near-breakaway, streaking to the net shoulder-to-shoulder with a Northwestern defender. His shot, in close, was just wide of the right corner of the goal.
Good decisions also began early.
In a heavyweight game that deserved a tight early rein, Hamm blew his whistle for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul seven minutes in.
Nine minutes in, Highlander goalie Piana, aggressive and sure, dashed way out of the box for a field kick.
“I expect him to make the great saves,” said Coach Campbell. “Better than that, he organizes the defense out there. He does that now, as a senior.”
“I’ve got a good defense back there – one of the best in the league,” Piana said. “They’re not going to give up an easy shot.”
Still, this half was a definite tester for Piana. He made a great save in the 24th minute, soared out of a crowd for a corner kick in the 26th.
At the other end, Northwestern ran into a Spartan roadblock every time it tried to drive up the middle of the field.
Campbell roared a steady demand to get wide.
Six minutes from the half, the best Highlander chance came on a perfect send into the Spartan box from senior Matt Thibault. A Highlander forward dashed from the left, shoulder-to-shoulder with a Mills defender.
The ball went through, untouched, to Daigle in the net.
The Highlanders shared offensive time in the second half, trailing Mills just 6-4 in shots.
Each side had a golden scoring opportunity.
Finley put a great ball into the Highlander box 22 minutes into the half. A Spartan got to it, then skyed it high over the net.
With 10 minutes left, Northwestern had a corner kick. Daigle fell on it, losing it for a millisecond. The Highlanders around him couldn’t move in time.
Mills had the overtime chances, but not the stars.
Referee Hunt starred in the first one, calling back the goal.
Goalkeeper Piana made his final star turn in the second.
Finley had a free kick from 30 yards out. Another Spartan skimmed it off his head toward the goal. Piana was there with one more sure-handed grab.
The stalemate was complete.
Northwestern 0, Lewis Mills 0 (OT)
At Northwestern High School
Lewis Mills 0 0 0 0-0
Northwestern 0 0 0 0-0
Shots: 18-7 Lewis Mills. Saves: LM-Alexander Daigle 6. NW-Palmer Piana 11.
Records: Lewis Mills 9-0-4; Northwestern 6-3-4.