The Hall boys soccer team finishes the season unbeaten with a 3-0 win over crosstown West Hartford rival Conard on Saturday night.
By Paul Palmer
Senior Lucas Almeida had two goals for his senior soccer season at Hall High School. Winning the State Class LL soccer title was No. 1 and could happen for the Titans later this fall. The second objective was met Saturday night when the UConn-bound striker scored two goals to break and then set the school record for goals in a soccer career.
Almeida entered the game tied with class of 1981 graduate Yuri Fishman – who traveled from Long Island to witness the event.
Almeida make a long run through Conard defenders early in the second half before firing home his 95th and record-breaking goal. Then, with just 4:14 to play and Hall leading 2-0, he gathered a pass about 40 yards from goal and dribbled to and through the defense. Goalie Ben Hammond stopped the original shot, but Almeida calmly collected the rebound and banged it home for goal number 96.
“I came to watch Hall soccer games when I was a kid,” Almeida said. “To be No. 1 now is unbelievable.”
Hall Coach Zeke Seguro had a hand getting Fishman to come to the game. “I reached out to Yuri and said I’d love to have you here and come in to speak with the team before the game. He said absolutely.” Seguro also had a pair of gifts to hand out after the match to the old and new record holders: custom-made shirts in Hall colors that had Fishman’s name and 94 – the number of goals he scored and the other with Almeida’s name and the number 95. Almeida’s teammates teased the coach and player as Almeida had finished with two goals for a total of 96.
The Red Wolves game took a huge hit early in the first half when senior captain Kevin Rivas went down clutching his left knee after a clash with a Hall attacker. He was helped to the sidelines where trainers attended to him.
Rivas, who plays a critical role in both the Conard offense and defense, did not return for the second half. The extent of his injury is not known as Conard prepares for its games in the state tournament. “It hurt us when he went down,” said first-year coach Lewis. “He’s a great defender and leader, but I am so proud of how we stepped up when called on after that.”
Just seven minutes in, Conard had a scoring chance fall to one of the team’s most dangerous players – Tony Catanzaro. Working from a tough angle, he managed to get a good shot on net that Hall goalie Tyler Fairchild was able to absorb. It was just over a minute later that Rivas would go down while working to gain control of the ball along the sidelines.
The Titans would get the better of play over the next 10 minutes, with Jack DeLoreto’s bid going just wide, then it was Sam Sandler and Fareed Abu Rabia nearly connecting on a promising give and go. And lastly, it was DeLoreto again with a great cross that Sandler got a head on, but Red Wolves goalie Hammond was in position to gather the ball in.
Hall would get the game’s first goal at 26:12. It came when Sandler used his blazing speed to race down the right sideline past Conard defenders before slotting a ball to the far side of the net that Hammond had no chance on. The visitors had a golden chance to even things before the half when Catanzaro’s long free kick was mishandled by Fairchild, but his defenders were able to clear the loose ball from danger.
It was Catanzaro again in the early minutes of the second half putting the Red Wolves in position to score, but his free kick headed just wide of the net. Moments later came Almeida’s record-breaking goal. As he frequently does, he dribbled the ball past several defenders before scoring the second goal of the game and the 95th of his career.
“They are really playing for one another,” said Seguro of his team. “Lucas wants to win and he and his teammates are in a good place right now to make a long run in the state tournament.” Moments later Sandler had a pair of chances to score. His first was stopped by Hammond, who also was there to deny a second chance. Hammond answered the challenge at with 5:28 to play when he made a diving save on a long shot on net and managed to grab the rebound shot while still on the ground.
One minute later, it was Almeida once again paying off a long run when he scored the game’s third goal and the 96th of his career at Hall.
It was a fitting end to the Titans’ unbeaten regular season (14-0-2).
Almeida’s sights are now on the post season, which begins with the CCC tournament on Wednesday and will follow with the state tournament. “We all know we have a great shot for the title this year,” Almeida said after Saturday’s game “We had a great team last year, but are even better this year, but we have to take it one game at a time.”
For Conard, the 3-0 loss ends their regular season at 6-5-5 under coach Becca Lewis. Prior to Saturday, every Conard loss had been by a single goal.
Conard now has some time off to prepare for the upcoming CIAC state tournament. “We have a full week to recover and regroup,” said Lewis. “I told the players everybody is 0-0 in the state tournament when it starts.”
For Seguro, it is about staying healthy and he would like to see his team get better on set plays moving forward. “I’d like to think that we are one of the top eight teams in Class LL,” he said. “But anything can happen on any given day, so I will say I am cautiously optimistic.”
Hall is one of three Class LL boys soccer teams to go undefeated this season. (Shelton and Norwalk are the others.) The No. 1 ranked team is Trumbull which put together a 15-1-0 season, finished with the same 0.938 winning percentage as the Titans, but ended one point ahead of Hall in the rankings entering the weekend. Trumbull lost its final game of the regular season 2-1 on Monday against Norwalk.
The boys state tournament begins on Nov. 5 with playdown games, and the first round kicks off on Nov. 7. The rankings and pairings for the tournament will not be posted until Nov. 4.
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