MIDDLETOWN — The Stonington High boys soccer team saluted family members, friends and fans in the stands at the end of Wednesday night’s game, just like it always does.
Only this time the gesture came after a rare loss. A loss that ended the Bears’ season in the semifinals of the Class M state tournament on a bitterly cold night at Xavier High.
Plainville 2, Stonington 1.
The 23rd-seeded Blue Devils (9-7-1) scored on their first shot of the game, and scored the only goal of the second half to beat the third-seeded Bears, who hadn’t allowed a goal in their three previous state tournament games.
Plainville advanced to face top-seeded Ellington for the state championship on Saturday. Stonington will put away its equipment after a 19-3 year.
“It’s really hard,” senior defender Joey Hinckley said through tears. “I’ve been playing with these boys since I was 5. It’s tough. It’s the last team sport I’m gonna plays with these boys. It’s just really hard.”
“You gotta give [Plainville] credit,” Stonington coach Paul deCastro said. “They’re a pretty good team. They move the ball very well. They’re very organized defensively. They’re well coached. We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy; the seed doesn’t mean anything.”
That was clear quickly.
The game was just 4:45 old when Plainville’s Michael Torres gained possession in traffic about 16 yards out and fired just out of the reach of diving Bears goalie Peter Fernholz. The ball squeezed just inside the post to Fernholz’s right.
“We made a mistake in the midfield,” deCastro said. “We’re going forward, we lose possession and next thing you know it’s in the back of the net.
“On Saturday, we scored 38 seconds into the game [in a 2-0 quarterfinal win over Tolland]. They scored five minutes into the game and it really changes the complexion of the game. That definitely was not in the plans, to concede a goal in the first five minutes. That really hurt.”
Stonington almost got the equalizer about five minutes later, but Plainville defender John Siani was able to clear a ball that was headed into the net.
Then, with 14:44 left in the first half, Sam Montalto tied it. The speedy freshman outran a Plainville defender to the ball, gained control, stopped on a dime, got the ball on his right foot and fired past Blue Devils goalie Sergio Zaldivar inside the far post.
The Bears applied good pressure the rest of the half, but nothing resulted in a goal thanks to Zaldivar, who played well.
“We get to 1-1 — at halftime we liked where we were,” deCastro said.
The second half was evenly played, with both teams having opportunities. Stonington played its possession game, and the Blue Devils did their best to counterattack. Plainville finally broke through on a corner kick into the box that Logan Miller gained control of and scored with 6:23 remaining.
After that, the Bears’ only real chance came on a free kick that was sent into a scrum in front of the net. But Stonington was unable to get a shot off.
“They pressed us a little more in the second half, and that definitely caused some issues,” deCastro said. “We had some chances. We were close. We just couldn’t finish.”
Stonington finished with 12 shots, eight coming in the first half. Plainville had 13 shots, eight in the second half. Fernholz, who finished with 10 saves, made two nice ones in the final minute. Zaldivar made eight saves.
The Bears will graduate eight seniors from the squad.
“The seniors and juniors are great kids,” deCastro said. “From Day 1, they were really all in. And I think they knew they could achieve some pretty good things this year. We just needed some balance today that we didn’t get. We were pretty close.”