The long-standing Staples-Simsbury rivalry — starting in 1980, and continuing through 2006 when the Trojans nipped the Wreckers 2-1 in an overtime state final — was revived this afternoon at warm but overcast Loeffler Field.
The series — all tournament games — stood at 3-3-1 (the teams shared the title in 1981). As usual, there was special drama: The Wreckers were missing leading scorer Greg Gudis. The 4-year starter suffered a slight tibia fracture late in the Guilford 2nd round match — shortly after nailing the winning goal.
Lorenz Esposito started up top; Brendan Lesch slid back into midfield with Jake Krosse. The alignment worked, as the Wreckers played good, quick-passing soccer from the opening whistle.
In the 2nd minute Frankie Bergonzi, Esposito and Max Hoberman combined to earn a quick corner kick. Mikey Scott laced it in; Steven Denowitz outleaped everyone — and headed high. The play, though — and the work leading up to it — was exactly what the Westporters needed.
In the 12th minute, keeper Adam Ziewacz snagged a hard shot off a corner kick.
The Wreckers pressed. Their game plan was to keep the ball wide — away from stellar sweeper Blake Mercer — and for a good portion of the 1st half they did that.
Defenders Bergonzi, Sean Gallagher, Steve Denowitz, Jake Malowitz and Court Lake pushed forward when they could, trying to keep the Trojans on their heels.
Staples dodged a 31st-minute bullet, then moved forward again. Three minutes later, with Denowitz up, Scott’s pressure earned a corner kick. Jake Krosse took it, and drove it across the goalmouth.
Bergonzi roared forward, power-heading the ball hard into the back of the net. The hard-charging, Colgate-bound defender has threatened all year on plays like that. Today it paid off — big-time.
Simsbury adjusted immediately, to start the 2nd half. Mercer moved all the way up — just as he did last week, in the 2nd round game at Norwalk. That time, the northerners rallied from a 1-0 deficit, stunning the Bears 2-1.
The Wreckers were not surprised. They’d trained yesterday for just such a move. With Steve Smith and Lars Aanestad coming on offensively, and Ben Root stepping in in the back, Staples did their best to deny Simsbury service.
The Wrecker defense was tested a bit. Keeper James Hickok made a leaping fingertip save in the 51st minute, and the backs saw more pressure than they had earlier.
Yet Lesch led the squad in managing the game. They possessed well, holding on when necessary and then driving into the corners.
The blue-and-whites missed a great chance to pad their lead 10 minutes from time. Krosse’s killer diagonal ball to Scott led to a corner kick. Scott’s serve sliced across the middle, where Root hit it just high.
The seconds wound down. When the final horn sounded — sending Staples to their 3rd straight LL semifinal — the enormous Loeffler Field crowd roared in approval.
And — across the country, wherever members of the 2006 team were listening to WWPT-FM’s live stream — the cheers were as loud as on The Hill. Final score: Staples 1, Simsbury 0. Season record: 19-2-1.
QUICK KICKS: The Wreckers’ semifinal foe is Hall-West Hartford. The 15-4-3 northerners reached the semis with a 2-1 victory over Pomperaug, a 4-1 upset at #1 E.O. Smith, and a heart-stopping 2-1 overtime win over Cheshire. Hall tied that match with 17 seconds remaining, to force OT….
Also today, #6 Farmington beat #3 Glastonbury on penalty kicks (3-2 in kicks, after overtime ended with the score 2-2). That means #5 Staples is the highest-ranked team left in the semifinals….
Besides the 2006 overtime final, Staples and Simsbury have played many other exciting tournament games. For example, in 1981 they tied 1-1 in the state championship final, while in 1996 the Wreckers won 1-0 on penalty kicks. Keeper Wes Martino — Kyle’s older brother — saved the crucial final kick by extending his leg behind him, after diving the wrong way.