A rugged defense was an integral part of last year’s run to the SCC championship game for the Branford boys’ soccer team.
The Hornets had to replace three starters in the back this season due to graduation. Injuries throughout the year have kept that defense in a state of flux, or as head coach Paul Hunter put it, “It’s still a work in progress.”
And it will continue to be as Branford enters the postseason. At 10-3-1 the Hornets are almost guaranteed home games in both the SCC and Class L state tournaments. And Branford went 8-0 in the SCC Oronoque Division to clinch that title.
But will Branford be able to make some more postseason magic?
“When our kids play the way they can, I think we are a very good team,” Hunter said. But we have to be consistent. It can’t be in 7- or 8-minute spurts. … This team has been, for the most part, been playing to 70-75 percent of its potential.”
Billy Bustos was the starting goalkeeper, but was lost for the season with a broken thumb a couple of weeks ago, according to Hunter. Steve Hacker replaced Bustos and played the next few games and the first half of Thursday night’s win over North Haven, while Nick Cordero played the second half.
Justin Waters, the only holdover on defense and the team’s lone captain, has helped the defense hold its own in the SCC so far. Aaron Radulski is manning the stopper position while Liam Daley is now the sweeper.
Gobari Idamkue started the season at sweeper and has since been moved to forward to team up with leading scorer Max Condon. Hunter Duval, who scored both goals in Thursday’s win over North Haven, has played mainly in the midfield.
“We have four or five guys who we definitely know where they will be playing,” Hunter said. “The versatility of the players at different positions is a big plus. It’s not as if we run around frantically when there’s an injury and we have no replacement. We find a different solution. It’s a credit to the kids that they are available to do those things and that they understand what each position entails.”
A win over Hand tonight would secure Branford a home game in Saturday’s SCC tournament quarterfinals.
Tigers on the prowl again
Mercy won its second straight SCC Quinnipiac Division title on Friday by beating Sacred Heart Academy 2-1 at home. The two teams played to a 2-2 tie back on Oct. 1.
“(SHA) scored early (on Friday) like they did in the first game,” Mercy coach Marcus Harley said. “Then we started to pick up our intensity and we stared to control the game.”
Forwards Olivia Ozycz and Blakeslee Palmer now have 12 and 10 goals respectively, for the Tigers (11-2-1). But the true strength for Mercy lies in its midfielders.
Alex Zampini, Kendra Landy and Danielle Richardson have been a big part of the 38 assists Mercy has had thus far. And when the Tigers get a lead, Harley can drop Zampini back on defense to help make it tougher for the opposition to score.
Mercy is currently the No. 3 seed in the SCC tournament, which begins on Saturday. If seeding holds to form, a semifinal-round matchup with defending champion Branford in the semifinals, with top-seeded Guilford, the winner of 13 straight games, awaiting the winner in the final on Oct. 30 at East Haven.
Both of Mercy’s losses have come to Guilford.
“My kids are excited to get back to the SCC tournament,” Harley said. “We really had a letdown last year, losing in penalty kicks to Shelton (in the semifinals). In my eyes, I would like to face Guilford again. If we do win it, we’d like to win it against Guilford.”