MERIDEN, Nov. 10 – The Avon High boys soccer team scored in the first two minutes of the game and used its defense to shut down South Windsor and earn a spot in the Class L championship for the third time in the last four years with a 1-0 decision Monday night at Falcon Field.
Avon (16-1-3) will play for a state championship on Saturday against either No. 17 Branford (12-5-2) or No. 21 Joel Barlow-Redding (9-4-6) at a time and date to be announced. Branford and Barlow play Tuesday night in their semifinal match.
“We talked last week about try to get back to winning with defense and we did,” Avon’s second-year head coach David Zlatin said. “They threw a lot at us in the second half but we weathered the storm. If we have to rely on defense to win a game, I’m very comfortable with that.”
Avon came up with some big defensive plays in the second half to hold off the No. 18 ranked Bobcats (12-7-1). None was bigger than a play by Jack Keenan and Stephen Dorney with about five minutes gone in the second half.
The Falcons were holding a one-goal lead when Brandon Leclerc got the ball to teammate Matthew Tavares, who ripped a shot from about the 15-yard line. Dorney deflected the shot but it was still going toward an open net but Keenan calmly cleared the ball off the back line.
“It was just a deflection,” Keenan said. “I saw that I could get and I just went out and did my job.”
“We just didn’t get the bounces,” South Windsor coach David St. Jean said. “Give some credit to their defense. They forced us to go into different directions and we had a tough time solving those kids in the back.”
Falcon goalie Danny Magrini made five saves to earn his 14th shutout of the season and his second straight of the state tournament. “We really focused in the second half on defending well,” Keenan said. “That’s what we have done all year.”
Avon also played defense by possessing the ball on offense. In the first half, Avon controlled the play with their passing. Forward Riley Strassner consistently made things happen up front, beating defenders down the sideline and passing the ball in front of the net.
“He is so dangerous every time he gets the ball,” Zlatin said. “Something good is going to happen. We just get him the ball and let him create.” Strassner, who has 32 goals on the year, has five goals and four assists in four state tournament victories.
Strassner created two scoring chances in the first two minutes of the game, one of which led to Avon’s goal. Strassner got a shot past South Windsor goalie Josh Inkel in the first minute but Bobcat defender William Weil cleared it off the back line.
Less than a minute later, Strassner brought the ball down the left sideline and made a nice rolling pass across the front of the goalmouth. Fuge was there to tap it in for a 1-0 lead with 1:58 gone in the game. It was his 16th goal of the season and his third of the tournament.
He had other scoring opportunities. Strassner ripped a shot off Inkel with 11:12 remaining in the first half but there was no Falcon teammate around to corral the loose ball. South Windsor’s Brendan Cullaine cleared the ball away. Inkel had to make a diving save of a Strassner shot early in the second half and showed a tremendous amount of courage diving and stopped Strassner at point blank range with about 15:19 remaining.
“He kept us in the game,” St. Jean said of his goalie, who made six saves.
“(Avon) came out really strong and they were the better team early on,” St. Jean said. “At halftime, we responded and the way we played the first 20 to 25 minutes of the second half is how we played in the tournament.”
NOTES: Avon earned a spot in the final for the 14th time. Two years ago, Farmington whipped Avon, 5-0 in the Class L final. “This has been our goal the entire year (the state final),” Dorney said. “In my sophomore year, we went to the final and we were embarrassed. We’re not going to let that happen again.” … Avon lost to Bunnell, 3-0 in the 2011 Class L final. … The last title won by Avon was in 2000 when they beat Lewis Mills, 3-2 for the Class M crown. … This was Avon’s first game ever against South Windsor.
Avon 1, South Windsor 0
South Windsor (12-7-1) 0 0 — 1
Avon (16-1-3) 1 0 – 1
Goal: Matthew Fuge (A); Assist: Riley Strassner (A); Saves: Danny Magrini (A) 5, Josh Inkel (SW) 6