Boys soccer: Falcons survive PKs, win league title

Joel Barlow High’s Jack Warren, left, contends with Masuk’s Ryan Hodska in the South-West Conference boys soccer championship on Friday, Nov. 3. Barlow defeated Masuk 1-0 (9-8 on penalty kicks). — Andy Hutchison photo

It was a situation the Joel Barlow High boys soccer team does not face very often but was prepared for just the same.

After two halves and two overtime periods failed to produce a winner, the South-West Conference championship then turned to penalty kicks. Two key saves by senior goalie Jackson Stalowir, who was later named the game’s MVP, proved to be the difference, as the top-seeded Falcons defeated second-seeded Masuk 1-0 (9-8 PK) on Friday, Nov. 3, on a blustery night at Pomperaug High in Southbury.

The win marked Barlow’s first SWC title since 2014 and 10th overall.

“It absolutely never gets old,” said Barlow head coach Paul Winstanley, whose team also defeated Masuk for the title in 2008. “I’m so proud of our boys because I thought with conditions and so forth I didn’t know if we were going to be able to possess and knock the ball,

but I thought we did a really good job of controlling the game and I thought we got better and better as the game went on.”

This was not the only battle the Falcons faced in their quest for the championship. Two days earlier the Falcons had their hands full with Bethel before a lone goal clinched a 1-0 win to punch their ticket to the championship.

There was very little goalmouth action in the first half-hour, with one Grant LaGaipa free kick after 25 minutes crossing the Bethel six-yard box and no Falcon forward there to apply the finishing touch and a Wildcat free kick straight into keeper Stalowir’s hands three minutes later. However, that all changed at 31 minutes, as Anthony Rizzo played a one-two with Jack Warren, who back heeled the ball for him to run onto and crash his shot high into the net, giving the Bethel goalie no chance.

Following defender Nick O’Connor’s dismissal for an infringement earlier in the half, Barlow actually had the chance to extend the lead in the 54th minute when Warren crossed to an unmarked Ben Goodacre, who had time and space to bring the ball under control 10 yards out, but unfortunately headed wide. The Falcons were nearly made to pay for that missed chance and had to rely on the athleticism and reflexes of Stalowir, as he thwarted the Bethel attackers time after time.

At 56 minutes, he tipped a goal-bound header over the bar and seven minutes later saved as well, pushing out Anthony Falsto’s effort. Bethel’s follow-up hit the left post and bounced right across the Barlow goal to safety.

Stalowir saved the best for last, though, when, at full stretch, he managed to get just enough fingertip onto a Gabe Carrillo header to tip the ball just over the bar.

Tony Paolini had the chance to wrap things up two minutes from time when his shot was pushed over by the Wildcats’ keeper, but the 10-man Falcons managed to cling on until the final whistle.

Neither keeper was really troubled in the first half of Friday’s championship, although both sides had chances. For Barlow, Warren headed over from a Ledbetter cross. Paolini shot just wide from long range, and Masuk keeper Samuel Forsythe saved well at the feet of Nathan Fenningdorf.

At the other end, a strong run by Ryan Winkler was halted by LaGaipa, a back header by Alex Vassilakis had keeper Stalowir scrambling, and a free kick from Aidan McShane came close.
The stalemate continued in the second half, with Winkler being halted by Warren, after he had beaten two Falcons defenders, and Atticus Upson as he was nearing the Barlow area. In addition, Colin Davis put the ball over the Barlow bar after a goalmouth scramble, and Ryan Hodska shot wide from a good position. For the Falcons, Warren miscued a couple of efforts from around 20 yards and a Paolini run was snuffed out by a combination of Max Mastrorocco and McShane.

Barlow also threatened in overtime but was again denied. Goodacre came close for Barlow, but his shot was pushed over by Forsythe, then Warren’s header from a LaGaipa free kick went just wide. The Panthers’ best effort came from Winkler three minutes from the end when his shot from 25 yards was inches outside the right post, and the contest eventually went to penalty kicks.

The first round failed to separate the teams, with each scoring four out of five (Max Baer, LaGaipa, Calish and Paolini scoring for Barlow, and Winkler, Zach McCollum, Tom Hooker and Mastrorocco converting for Masuk). Stalowir saved a shot from Hodska and Forsythe thwarted Warren.

The high success rate continued in the second round of five with goals from Carl Zuanelli, Upson, Adam Ortiz, Aidan Dougall and Pablo Correa-Ramirez for Barlow and Christian Aja, Vassilakis, Matt Machan and Stephen Murphy for Masuk, with the only save coming when Stalowir kept out McShane. When Correa-Ramirez sent his shot into the right corner of the net, the Falcons had clinched the championship, starting the celebration on the sidelines.

“It was really nerve-wracking, but I had confidence in my team that they would finish a PK even if I didn’t pick up a save,” said Stalowir. “Before the playoffs start, our team practices it all the time.”

Barlow will now take part in the state Class L tournament. It is seeded seventh in the 36-team bracket.

“This was a total dogfight from start to finish,” said Winstanley. “It made sense that it would come down to the last kick, which was what it came down to. Our preparation in penalty kicks paid off, and in the end we raised another championship flag.”

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