Conard hosted Xavier on Thursday. night in the CIAC Class LL boys soccer tournament.
By Paul Palmer
A pair of second half goals from Xavier were the difference in the game as the Falcons ended the Conard boys soccer season 3-1 in the second round of the Class LL Tournament Thursday night.
The host Red Wolves were playing from behind early in the first half. Senior Mario Milardo scored his first goal in the game with 30:33 to go in the first. “We were chasing the game from the beginning,” said Conard head coach Becca Lewis. “We never gave up and we had some good looks at the goal.”
One of those came with just 14 seconds to play when Gabe Sosa rocketed a shot from 20 yards out on an angle that whistled across the face of the goal, sliding wide.
Xavier took the 1-0 lead into the break, but Conard had lived by the mantra of “just keeping playing and one of the shots will go in.” Before they could think about equalizing, Conard had to stave off some early bids from the SCC Conference Champions.
Goalie Ben Hammond was challenged just 10 minutes in when and managed to get a hand on a shot at the far post, but the spin on the ball nearly led in into the net as it spun towards the far post. Hammond was able to scramble and cover the ball before it crossed the goal line. Conard nearly equalized later in the half when Sosa was tripped while making a run into the middle of the field. His ensuing free kick sailed towards the far post of the Xavier net, but no Red Wolf could get his head on the ball before it went out of bounds.
Moments later, Falcons’ goalie Cristian Torres was challenged when he managed to smother a good Conard chance that came after some smart passing. As the second half neared the midway point Xavier would score the backbreaking goal. From about 30 yards out the low shot was sent on the Conard goal, and Hammond appeared to have it measured. But as he went down to cover the ball it slid underneath his body and into the corner of the net and Xavier had the 2-0 lead.
The Red Wolves continued battling, pushing the ball up the wings and into the middle of the field and it paid off just over 3 minutes later.
Off a throw in from deep in the offensive zone, Jules Capone got off a shot that Torres could only block with his legs, and as the goalie fell backwards, Sosa was there to knock in the loose ball and cut the lead to 2-1 at 18:55.
“Even at halftime we were very positive,” Lewis said of her team. “We were knocking on the door.”
Both sides pressed the attack, with Xavier using speed and long balls down the wings to create solid scoring chances, and Conard using quick passes and crosses into the box to try to get the tying marker. The Falcons came close with just under 10 minutes to play when a shot went just wide of Hammonds goal. One minute later, it was Milardo sealing the deal when he scored from a few feet out. Xavier had worked the ball down its left wing, drawing Conard defenders across the box, and Milardo found himself with space to push the ball across the goal line with the inside of his right foot off a short, squared pass.
Conard continued to push forward and trying to find enough offense to tie things up. They had a good chance when Torres went up for a corner kick and the ball sailed between his hands but continued on to the far touchline when no Red Wolves’ player cold get to it.
Conard’s season ends with a 9-4-4 mark in the final season for a dozen seniors. “The brutal part of it all is you have a good season, but then only one team’s season will eventually end with the win in the final,” Lewis lamented as she spoke of how proud she was of the way her team fought til the end.
Much of Conard’s success this year came from those seniors and their leadership. Speaking after the game Lewis was emotional as she reflected on the players that made up her roster this season. “They are an amazing group of boys,” she said as she held back tears. “We were truly a team and had each other’s back. They continued to build the Conard soccer program.”
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