GUILFORD — Guilford boys’ soccer coach Joe Maher considers his team fortunate to be advancing in the CIAC Class LL state tournament. The coach and the team have Nate Wilson and Sal Nasr to thank for that.
Behind 10 saves from Wilson and Nasr’s first-half goal, No. 14 Guilford defeated No. 19 West Haven 1-0 in the first round of the state tournament Tuesday night at Bittner Park in Guilford.
With the win, Guilford improved to 12-6-2 and advances to second-round action at No. 3 Ridgefield Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.. West Haven finishes its season 7-6-4.
“They made a great push in the second half,” Maher said of West Haven. “They had two chances which we were able to stop and we scored early when they could not hold on to the ball. We have had trouble scoring all year. West Haven put on a clinic in the second half.”
Trailing 1-0, the Westies were all over the Indians in the second half, which was a vast contrast from the first half where Guilford controlled play.
The Westies attacked immediately in the second half but Wilson was up to the challenge. The senior goalkeeper denied Ulises Hernandez from 20 yards out just 5 minutes into the second half, then made the save of the game with 32:15 remaining.
West Haven’s George Oppong, who was denied by Wilson from 5 yards out in the first half, had the lower corner picked out for what looked like the equalizer. Wilson slipped, but still managed to get his fingertips on the ball, deflecting the shot inches wide to retain the lead.
“I was pretty lucky,” Wilson said of the save while slipping. “I was fortunate to get my fingertips on it. It just went wide.”
Wilson denied West Haven sniper Pablo Perez from 20 yards out and stopped Oppong again with 18:30 left from 10 yards out. Hicham Lkhal then missed the top of the goal by inches when he looped a shot from 15 yards out.
“We had our chances,” West Haven coach Liam Leapley said. “George (Oppong) was in front in the first half and they made the save. Then they just tipped one wide. They made the plays.
“I am proud of the kids. They played well. It was our first game on grass and it showed. We had a breakdown on their goal and they scored.”
While the Westies owned the play in the second half, it was all Guilford in the first 40 minutes. The Indians also scored the only goal, which held up.
Nick Bonelli’s free kick just sailed over the goal from 25 yards out 5 minutes in and Noah Elmeleki ripped a shot wide from 15 yards out with 9:38 gone by in the game.
After Oppong was denied in front and a long shot by Perez was stopped by Wilson, Guilford came up the field and converted.
Noah Rattet’s long shot from about 35 yards sailed toward West Haven goalkeeper Dan Prendergast When Prendergast could not handle the ball, the rebound went to Nasr, who ripped a shot by Prendergast for the 1-0 lead.
“They couldn’t control the ball and we were right there,” Maher said of Nasr’s goal. “He was right there. He has been in good position recently.
“We have been getting better. We had a lot of chances. West Haven could have had a goal easy. They had opportunities. I have been on the other side of it. Sometimes I’d rather be lucky than good.”
Prendergast made 8 saves for West Haven.