TORRINGTON >> Torrington High School’s boys soccer team beat Holy Cross 3-1 Wednesday night in a game that could have gone the other way.
“We got lucky at times. There’s nothing wrong with that,” grinned Torrington coach Mike Fritch Jr.
The Red Raiders, now 11-1, might be the perfect example of a team creating its own luck.
“A game like this makes us know how hard we have to play. It’s a preview for the NVL tournament,” said Amar Suljic.
Coming into the game 8-3, the Crusaders figured to make it a tough challenge.
Torrington’s stellar sweeper John McCarthy upped the ante, turning his ankle Tuesday in the first 10 minutes of the Raiders’ blowout at Woodland. He sat out Wednesday’s game with a sprain.
Freshman Brandon Stater took his place in the backfield.
“He did a good job, but nobody else is John McCarthy,” said Coach Fritch. “Everybody around him picked it up.”
Maybe it was the opponent, maybe the absence of McCarthy. The whole team, already quick, came out playing faster than ever.
For the first 10 minutes, the Raiders looked like they might run the Crusaders into the ground.
Shane Bierfeldt and Suljic had three great tries in the first five minutes.
In the eighth, Bierfeldt passed forward to Suljic at the 18. Suljic’s shot hit junior goalkeeper Luca DiCarlo on his knees, rolling up and over him into the goal, 1-0.
Four minutes later, Shane Walker flew down the left sideline, pinched in toward the goal, then kicked a shot off the top of the crossbar out of bounds.
The Crusaders’ first rattle back was a huge shock.
Holy Cross midfielder Garrett Goral carried the ball straight into the box. Torrington goalkeeper Zack Paniati got a hand on his shot, deflecting it over his head, seemingly into the goal. Instead, Seth Gesmondi got his head on it for a near-miraculous save.
“Gesmondi was right on the post where he’s supposed to be. He did his job,” said Fritch.
Notice was served. The Crusaders shifted gears. From then on, the game was a buzz saw at both ends.
“We’ve had to adjust our speed to several teams this year,” said Holy Cross coach Ryan McDonald. “Torrington played well; they’re a good team. We had chances in the first half. We just couldn’t finish the opportunities.”
At times, that was true at both ends.
Crusader keeper DiCarlo beat Walker by a hair in the 23rd minute. Holy Cross missed scoring by an eyelash twice in a row.
Walker had another golden opportunity in the 25th minute. In the 26th, he made it good.
Torrington midfielder Chris Parrotta banged a shot off DiCarlo. The ball caromed on and off players from both teams. Walker got the final deflection, pounding it into the net, 2-0.
This game, that margin wasn’t safe.
Paniati just beat a Cross forward to the ball in the 28th minute.
A minute later, Paniati made a miracle save on a hard shot toward the right corner of the goal. Paniati dove, just reaching the ball with his arms outstretched.
“Two years ago, Zack (a senior) wouldn’t have made that save,” said Fritch.
Parrotta, winning battles continuously at midfield, pounded the ball off DiCarlo 10 minutes before the half.
With three minutes left in the period, fevers ran high enough for referees to hand out yellow cards to each player in a dustup.
In the second half, just after a great display of passing from Kevin Vaca to Bierfeldt to Mancini in the 12th minute, Cross amped the pressure.
Erice Prates pumped a pass to Taj Fullerton close to the net. Fullerton, a junior, made it a one-goal game, 2-1.
Ten minutes later, Mancini showed off one of Torrington’s best weapons, with a sideline throw-in to the box. Bierfeldt, five yards from the net, scored the goal, finally sealing the win.
“Last year, we tried that (throw-in offensive). This year, we’re ready for it. We’re on it,” said Coach Fritch.
If the final score makes the win look easy, Fritch pointed out the Crusader goal was the first score on the Raiders in the last 456 minutes (five-and-a-half games) of play. Holy Cross is tough.
Torrington goes to 7-5 Wilby on Friday for another tough game. The Crusaders host 5-6 Wolcott.
Torrington 3, Holy Cross 1
At Torrington High School
Holy Cross 0 1-1
Torrington 2 1-3
Goals: HC-Taj Fullerton. T-Amar Suljic, Shane Walker, Shane Bierfeldt. Assists: HC-Eric Prates. T-Bierfeldt, Nick Mancini. Shots: 12-7 Torrington. Saves: HC-Luca DiCarlo 9. T-Zack Paniati 4.
Records: Holy Cross 8-4; Torrington 11-1.