STONINGTON — Weston had a noticeable edge in the first half of Tuesday’s Class M state tournament boys’ soccer game against Stonington High.
The second half was almost all Weston, but on the scoreboard the only thing that separated the Trojans from the Bears was an exceptional individual effort by Bryan Lonergan.
The play that led to Lonergan’s goal started when Stonington keeper Steven Zelepos came off his line to go after a long ball played in by Micah Zirn.
“I saw the ball being played and I was like alright this is going to be an easy save, went up to catch it. All of a sudden I see a body just fly out of nowhere, he heads it, I’m like, ahh; he got me, he got me, I didn’t even see it coming,” Zelepos said.
Lonergan’s goal 9 minutes, 9 seconds into the second half was all the offense 23rd-seeded Weston needed for a 1-0 victory against No. 10 Stonington before a small crowd at Donald E. Palmer Field.
“He (Lonergan) just took a gamble,” Weston coach Kevin Fitzsimmons said. “He ran across the face of the keeper and he just got there before the keeper did and he managed to head towards the goal and luckily enough it went in. It was a straight header and it bounced in.
“Considering that we try and play possession soccer, that was one of maybe three long balls that we actually played in the game, and we got a header off it so maybe I should change to be a long-ball team instead of a possession team, you know,” Fitzsimmons added, less than seriously.
The Trojans (6-4-6) had 10 shots on goal in the second half, compared to four in the first 40-minute session. The Bears had just one attempt in each half.
“We started the game pretty well. I thought we were in the ballpark, but as the game went on I thought they really started taking control of the game,” Stonington coach Paul deCastro said.
“I think when we got the ball we never really possessed it. We got the ball and we got rid of the ball. And when you don’t have possession you don’t mount any kind of attack.
“So they got the ball, they possessed it and they created chances. We talk about playing the feet and keeping the ball. We had some good moments of that this year, but in the second half we didn’t possess the ball. We didn’t really ever mount three, four, five consecutive passes. And when you don’t do that the other team is eventually going to take advantage and they did.”
In the first half, the Bears got some good play out of Leo Aguirre, Ethan Murphy and Chandler Ray on offense and Ian Kilcoyne in the back.
Zelepos, a senior, was not severely tested in the first half despite the impressive ball movement of the Trojans, but he did cut off a couple of dangerous crosses and deflected a shot that might have gone wide anyhow.
“Steven played really well,” deCastro said.
“And we were always talking to him about coming off his line. He came off his line there (on the goal) and it didn’t work out well for him. But that stuff happens. Goalkeeing is not an easy position. He did well. He’s a great leader and he did a lot of good stuff for the team.”
Fitzsimmons said the Trojans, who play in the tough Southwest Conference, played their best game of the season.
“I felt it was all us in the first half, as well,” he said. “We used the sides of the field to our advantage. We moved the ball, we possessed it well. My midfield worked hard, checked into space a lot. Just moved the ball really well, really quick. It’s the best they’ve played all season. It seems to be like everything clicked tonight that we’ve been working towards. It was nice to see it click.”
Fitzsimmons also had some nice words for the Bears.
“I thought Stonington really gave a good account of themselves tonight. And you can tell that they play the right way, the correct way,” Fitzsimmons said.
“They try to possess the ball, they try and move it quickly which is always good to see.
“Sometimes you go to different conferences and they’re kicking it long, which a lot of teams in the SWC do as well. So it was nice to see Stonington actually try and get the ball down, try and move it because I think soccer should only be played one way and that’s on the floor and move it about.”
Weston will host No. 26 Granby on Thursday at 2 p.m. Granby beat No. 7 Tolland 3-2 on Tuesday.
Zelepos said Weston was better than the ECC teams the Bears played this season, and deCastro, speaking separately, agreed.
“They move the ball around well, they’re a strong team. I think if they played a lot of teams in the ECC they would really be a tough team to beat,” deCastro said.
Zelepos, who has been the Bears’ starting keeper since the seventh game of his sophomore season, was credited with 12 saves.
The Bears finished with an 11-6-2 overall record, a far cry from the two previous seasons.
“My sophomore year we went like 1-12-2 and then in my junior year we won four games so we’re like that’s pretty good for our season,” Zelepos said.
“And then coming into this season we really didn’t know what we were going to be like. Me and my other co-caption Tom (Thomas St. Rock) we really picked up our guys, we really motivated them and to come out with 11 wins felt good. It felt good transforming this program, but we’ll see what happens next year. We’ll see what they can do.
“It feels good but it’s sad it’s over, it really is. If I could do it again, I would. I’d go do it again.”