MIDDLETOWN — Xavier had just over 15 hours to get ready for the Southern Connecticut Conference Division A boys’ soccer championship game.
After ousting Hamden in the semifinals that ended just before 9 p.m. Friday night, the Falcons looked tired in the first eight minutes in Saturday’s noon start in the final.
But a Brady Stevenson goal at the 8:29 mark of the first half woke Xavier up and the Falcons went on to win the Division A crown with a 2-1 victory over Cheshire at Larry McHugh Field.
“It definitely gave us a burst of energy that we needed,” Xavier coach Brian Fitzgerald said. “Then we started playing on adrenaline and it felt like we kicked it up to another gear.”
Cheshire (6-4-2) had dominated the possession in the first eight minutes of the game, but Xavier finally took control of the ball and John Milardo fed a wide open Stevenson at the right post, where he converted it into the top right corner of the net to make it 1-0.
“That was the best feeling ever, honestly,” Stevenson said. “It gave everyone a big lift. During warmups, I was exhausted. As soon as I put the ball in the net, the lights flicked on for me.”
From that point on, Xavier took control of the play. The Falcons had a chance to extend their lead just three minutes later, but Jason Salley’s blast on a direct kick was saved by Cheshire goalkeeper Matthew Pisani.
Twenty minutes later, the Rams had their best scoring opportunity of the first half when Tim Beecher’s blast from 20 yards out was swatted over the crossbar by Xavier goalkeeper Spencer Misenti.
Xavier (8-3) added an insurance goal with just over 29 minutes left when Stevenson fed Ryan Gerry with a through ball. Gerry raced down the left side and beat Pisani with a shot into the lower right of the net.
“The ball just popped out the right way,” Gerry said. “It was huge to have an extra goal, especially after they scored in the last couple of minutes.”
“We lost our composure on both of their goals and it killed the momentum we had going on,” Cheshire coach Artur Branco said. “Games like this are won on small little things. When you make mistakes, good teams will capitalize on them.”
Cheshire put a lot of pressure on Misenti in the final minutes to try and get back in the game. E.J. Gonzalez converted a corner kick on a header that went into the net to cut the Rams’ deficit in half with 2:45 to play. However, the Xavier defense clamped down and did not allow the Rams to get another good shot off in the final 145 seconds.
“Two minutes left,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a little nerve-racking.”
It was the third time this season that Xavier beat Cheshire, all of them by one goal.
“They are good, so you have to give them credit,” Branco said.
Misenti, who was named the tournament’s Outstanding Player, recorded four saves, while Pisani had three.