EAST LYME — When the Stonington High boys soccer team trains, there is no segment devoted to penalty kicks.
Not since the Bears missed a couple during a Class M state quarterfinal-round loss in 2017.
"We don't practice them and I go with my best players," coach Paul deCastro said emphatically.
That strategy paid off Thursday night in the ECC Division I tournament championship game against Fitch.
After 40 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods ended with the score tied at 1, the top-seeded Bears were perfect on their five attempts to win the PK round, 5-4, and capture their third conference title in the last four years on a rainy night at East Lyme High's Dick North Field.
No. 2 Fitch opened the PK round (each team takes five shots, all by different players) with a miss, wide left. Sam Montalto followed by converting to give Stonington the advantage. The teams then traded goals, with Tyler Fidrych, Will Cannella and Billy deCastro scoring for the Bears.
Stonington's fifth shooter finally stepped to the ball, sophomore Cole DeVoe. A goal and the Bears win; a miss or a save and the teams go to another PK round.
Nervous? Not DeVoe.
"I know exactly where I go every time I take a PK," he said. "I knew exactly where the keeper was going, I trusted myself and I put it where I put it every single time."
Which was right down the middle into the back of the net.
"Not a better feeling," DeVoe said.
It was a fitting end to a game that was played fairly evenly throughout.
Unbeaten Stonington (15-0-2) had defeated the Falcons (14-5) twice during the regular season, 3-2 and 3-0, so the Bears knew the Falcons would be coming for them.
"They've been wanting to beat us for a while, and the last game we won 3-0," coach deCastro said. "We knew this wasn't going to be easy, and that was definitely the game we've been tested the most."
Stonington didn't even have a shot on net until about 16 minutes into the contest.
Still, it was the Bears who got on the board first, thanks to their dynamic duo, Fidrych and Montalto.
Montalto, just outside the box, played a ball wide to Fidrych, who collected the pass, gathered himself and fired from about 15 yards out on an angle. Fidrych said he didn't get the mustard he wanted to on the shot, but it skidded between the legs of keeper Ramiro Zavala to give Stonington a 1-0 lead with 18:34 left in the half.
"Hey, I'll take it," Fidrych said.
Fitch tied it on a set piece in the second half. Sebastian Duffy launched a free kick into the box that Caleb Robbins headed on a line drive past Bears keeper Peter Fernholz, who never had a chance.
Stonington had the best opportunity to win it in regulation, but missed an open net with about 7:40 remaining.
The Bears also controlled the second overtime.
Montalto, after receiving a nice, long feed down the line from Fidrych, nearly won it when he pried the ball away from Zavala and shot, but two Fitch defenders raced to the net to knock it away before it reached the net (there were cries of "handball" from the Stonington fans on the play).
It ultimately took PKs to decide the contest.
As for why Stonington doesn't practice PKs anymore, let DeVoe explain: "Against Ellington in the state quarters [in 2017], we missed a few and ended up losing. Ever since then we stopped practicing PKs, because you can't worry about them too much. We want to win the game before you have to go to PKs."
Each team finished with nine shots on goal; Stonington had seven corner kicks to Fitch's five. Fernholz made eight saves.
Now the Bears, the ECC Division I and tournament champs, turn their attention to the big prize: a state title.
"We want the triple crown," said Fidrych, who was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
"This was the type of game that builds a lot of character, and that hopefully will help us," deCastro said. "We left the game healthy and that's a key, so hopefully we can make a run here in the state tournament."