Hall hosted crosstown West Hartford rival Conard on Friday night in the final game of the regular season for both playoff-bound teams.
By Paul Palmer. Photos by Craig Rosenberg and Paul Palmer
It was at times chippy, at times dazzling, but an always-intense game and in the end Hall made its two first half goals stand up to shut out Conard in the regular season finale for both teams.
These games are always intense no matter the records, but this season Conard arrived with a seven-game unbeaten streak – with five straight wins – and nine wins on the season. Hall came into the game with eight wins, but three losses playing what head Coach Zeke Seguro said was one of the toughest schedules he’s ever had.
With a lively crowd on both sides of the field at Hall, senior captain Gabe Sisk put the home team on top at 21:43. Finding space along the left side of the Red Wolves’ defense, he drilled the ball on a line into the upper corner giving Conard goalie Ben Hammond no chance.
Just under five minutes later, it was another senior captain, a defensive player, finding the back of the net. Tommy Nash appeared ready to try a bicycle kick, but instead played the ball to himself, spun, and rifled it into the upper left corner – again leaving Hammond with no chance and giving the Titans had the 2-0 lead.
While neither team would add to the score the rest of the opening half, play was very physical and at times a little chippy as emotion and pride ran high on both sides of the ball. “In the first half, we played really well,” said Seguro who took last year’s undefeated team to the state final before falling to Greenwich. “We put them under pressure and got a couple of beautiful goals.”
One of the game’s storylines was the relationship between Seguro and Conard second-year head coach Becca Lewis – a former assistant coach under Seguro at Hall. The two have a wealth of respect for each other, and Lewis has praised Seguro for helping her reach this point in her career. Sometimes they even see the game the same. “They [Hall] came out ready to go, winning the 50/50 balls and executing around the goal,” Lewis said.
After the intermission, Conard came out with a renewed fire and spirit and early on challenged goalkeeper Quinn Freeman with a free kick that was headed down towards the corner, but the keeper was ready and safely handled it.
Not to be outdone, Hammond turned in his own gem with 27:26 to play. Off a defensive misplay at the edge of the box, Hall’s John Hunt blistered a low short labeled for the far, lower corner, but Hammond laid out and managed to palm the ball away to safety.
Play continued to be chippy with a lot of shirt tugging and holding, and some very physical play from both sides. On two different occasions the officials stopped play to talk to players to try and calm things down, but it seemed to be too little too late. With just under 16 minutes to go, Freeman kept his clean sheet intact with a huge save off a turnaround shot from in close by Conard’s Jules Capone.
The next big save was Hammond’s as once again he found himself facing a one-on-one, this time with Fareed Abu Rabia. Hammond came off his line to cut the angle and managed to stop the low shot as he slid.
Conard kept getting good pressure but Freeman was calm and his backline of Nash, Jack Deloreto, Sisk, and Ben Goldstein was in unison handling the attacks and safely moving the ball from defense to offense.
Conard had one final, best chance with just 1:33 to play when Colin Scrimgeour laid a ball across the box to a streaking Capone who was rushing in from his defensive spot. It rolled just out of the reach of Capone and went harmlessly into touch for a goal kick. “We got a little sloppy in the second half,” said Seguro. “But I was pleased with a couple of the offensive chances we created.”
Lewis saw the second half effort as something to build on as the Red Wolves get ready to host an upcoming CCC Tournament game. “We played a lot better in the second half. A bit more like we wanted to play.” She added that there were some valuable lessons she hoped her players took from the game. “It was a learning moment for us. We have to learn to be ready in the big games,” Lewis said.
Coming into the season, one of the big questions for Hall was where the offense was going to come from after losing players like Gatorade National Player of the Year Lucas Almeida and speedster Sam Sandler to graduation. “We have grown as a team and playing some good soccer,” said Seguro. “Coming into the season I said if we could score 30 goals as a team I’d be ecstatic.”
Though the Titans fell just short of that number, they have seen more players chipping in goals and a stout defense keeping Hall in each contest. “Our defense has been solid and apart from one game, they’ve been very disciplined. I love this group,” said the coach.
The Titans finish the regular season with a 10-3-3 mark, including seven shutouts (three in a row), allowing just 11 goals, and scoring 24 goals of their own as they prepare for the CCC Tournament and the state playoffs. Conard finishes the season at 9-3-4 having posted four shutouts of their own, only allowing more than two goals in one game, letting in just 19 against on the season while scoring 30 goals of their own as they get ready for their own run in the state tournament.
The CCC Tournament begins Oct. 30, while the Class LL State Tournament competition begins the following week.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.