TORRINGTON — A 5-3 Torrington boys soccer win over Waterbury Career Academy Wednesday night had the look and impact of an NVL Tournament preliminary round at the Robert H. Frost Sports Complex.
The Spartans (9-5-2; 8-5-2 NVL) and Red Raiders (9-6-1) started their final regular-season game as the sixth and seventh seeds in the eight-team league tournament beginning this Saturday. Torrington’s win leapfrogged the Raiders into sixth place; a loss would have sent them into limbo, awaiting the outcome of other games in the league.
“We were aware of the standings. It almost felt like a tournament game,” said senior captain Ben Sisic, a prime figure at midfield defensively and offensively with a goal and two assists.
Coming in off a 17-0 goal margin in three straight shutouts before Wednesday, the Raiders dominated most of the first half but settled for long shots to Spartan goalkeeper Dan Petro, combining with Presley Anthony for 11 saves.
In 33 minutes, the closest they came to scoring was a shot off the crossbar by Xavier Rodas in the 25th minute.
“Our style of play — defense!” hollered assistant Spartan coach Dave Sylvester.
Then a WCA hand ball in the penalty box set up Spartan keeper Petro’s best and worst moments. The 5-6, 120-pound junior blocked Rodas’ penalty kick, but Petro was injured on the play, replaced by Presley Anthony.
Then the first of several scoring waves began.
Raider sophomore star Brayen Nietch (3 goals, 1 assist) made an outside shot count, whistling a rope into the far side of the net from 15 yards on the left wing with three minutes left in the half.
A minute later, Spartan senior Brandon Lage (2 assists) sent a corner kick bounding in the Torrington box. Spartan star Jonathan Edwards (3 goals) caught up with it, tying the score.
With seconds left in the half, Sisic made the assist of the year, dribbling into the box from the right wing, then sliding a pass between a defender and goalkeeper Anthony to Nietch, who put it away for the 2-1 halftime lead.
“It was a game of spurts. They scored goals when they needed to,” said Spartan coach Ryan McDonald, taking over the team after Coach Dave Vecca left for a job at Oxford High School.
The first half’s closing flurry energized both sides.
“We bring kids off the bench with a lot of electricity,” said Nietch. “It gives us confidence.”
Thirteen minutes into the second half, the confidence produced two Torrington goals in two minutes.
First, a Nietch corner kick bounced into a crowd in the Spartan box; Nate Bolesh pushed it into the net.
Two minutes later, a Rodas corner kick sailed into the box for a header by 6-3 Sisic.
“We had a comfortable 4-1 lead. Then we got too comfortable,” said Torrington coach Mike Fritch.
Three golden Raider chances missed the net in the next nine minutes. An easy Spartan pass rolled between a Torrington defender’s legs. Edwards was on it with an open shot, closing the game to 4-2.
After Torrington keeper Kevin Hidrovo saved one more Edwards open shot on another defensive miscue, Edwards took a pass from Lage, climbing a 4-3 goal into the net.
With 12 minutes left, it was a tournament game.
Nine minutes from the end, Sisic and Nietch combined for one more goal when they needed to.
Sisic bombed a perfect corner kick; Nietch put it in for the final score.
“We didn’t need the mental lapses, but we got just enough,” said Coach Fritch, whose calculations have the Raiders playing at third-seeded Holy Cross in Saturday’s NVL quarterfinal round.
Torrington 5, WCA 3
WCA 1 2 — 3
Torrington 2 3 — 5
Goals: W — Jonathan Edwards 3. T — Brayden Nietch 3; Nate Bolesh; Ben Sisic. Assists: W — Brandon Lage 2. T — Sisic 2; Nietch; Xavier Rodas. Shots: 16-5 Torrington. Saves: W — Dan Petro; Presley Anthony 11. T — Kevin Hidrovo 2.
Records: WCA 9-5-2; 8-5-2 NVL. Torrington 9-6-1.