TORRINGTON >> Last season the Red Raiders made it all the way to the Naugatuck Valley League finals before losing to Watertown, 2-1 in overtime. Since that loss the Red Raiders have set their minds on returning to the finals and this time coming back home to Torrington as NVL champions.
“The first thing we talked about when the year started was that we wanted to take it a step further than last year,” said Torrington head coach Mike Fritch. “It’s been on their mind all year.”
Last season’s loss cut deeply with the players, but from the time they left the field after the season ended, a first round loss in the State tournament, they never forgot the game.
“We would all go to the field in the summer,” said senior Shane Bierfeldt, about him and his teammate’s dedication and drive to get back to the NVL finals. “If we didn’t have the motivation to go to the field, the loss would give us the motivation to go.”
With all the training all summer and offseason, being back in the same spot they were last season wasn’t something that would have been nice, it was something that they expected from themselves and their teammates.
“We expected to get here, last year was a luxury, this year we expected it,” said senior Shane Bierfeldt. “We came into the season expecting to win the NVLs.”
The Red Raiders will take on the number one seed in the tournament, Naugatuck who was 18-0 this season including tournament games, in the finals.
On Sept. 25, Naugatuck came up to Torrington and beat the Red Raiders 3-2. The game-winning goal came on an own goal and in the final minutes, handing them its only loss of the season. Since the defeat Torrington has won every game that they played, 10 in the regular season and two so far in the tournament, and have only allowed one goal during that 12-game span.
“Everything we did during this season sort of geared us towards Wednesday,” said Fritch. “We’re peaking right now and you want to peak towards the tournament.”
Panianti has been as good as any goalie in high school soccer can be this season, breaking the school record with 11 shutouts in a regular, two more in the tournament so far. He is looking forward to facing the Greyhounds and its ferocious offensive attack.
“This is where I get to prove why I was named All-Copper Team and deserve to be on this field with these guys,” said Paniati.
Though the Greyhounds will walk onto to the field as the number one team in the NVL and one of the better teams throughout the State, but this time around, the Red Raiders will have junior Kevin Vaca back this time for the whole game.
Vaca played in the first three minutes of the loss against Naugatuck before having to leave the game with a quad injury.
“With Kevin back, we will be able to control the ball more,” said McCarthy.
Vaca is confident in his team’s chances on Wednesday night, because of how far they have come this season.
“We can understand each other more than earlier in the season,” said Vaca. “I’ll be passing the ball more and communicating as well.”
When the two teams step out on the field Wednesday night at Municipal Stadium at 5 p.m. their previous matchup means nothing, only the 80 minutes inside the lines do.
“We think we’re better than them, the three goals they scored were lucky,” said McCarthy. “They have good players, but we have a more controlled team overall. I think we have a good chance at winning.”