Nicholas Polica, front, cuts in front of Stratford's Maxwell Maria to play a ball during Saturday's' game at Penders Field. (Photo by Dawn Fanara/fanaraphoto.com)

BOYS SOCCER: Bunnell ekes out a tight 2-1 win over Stratford

​STRATFORD—Making the South-West Conference playoffs​ after going 1-15 last season would be an impressive turnaround,​ but the Bunnell boys soccer team is in position to do just​ that.​​

The Bulldogs climbed to fifth in the SWC standings — just​ two points out of third — following a 2-1 win Saturday over ​town rival Stratford at Penders Field.​​

Derick Celestin and Nicholas Polica caused problems for the​ Red Devils with their speed and each scored in a five-minute​ span early in the second half for the Bulldogs, who improved ​ to 5-3-3 following their second straight victory.​​

“It’s a process, it’s changing the culture and getting winning​ to start to become a habit,” Bunnell coach Joe Baccielo said​ when asked about the turnaround. “We didn’t play well today ​ but it’s a testament to them that even in games we don’t play ​well, we’re finding a way to compete and hopefully get the win.”​​

Bunnell’s Derick Celestin (23) slides a through ball up the field as Stratford’s Dominic Gomes chases the play down during Saturday’s boys soccer game at Penders Field. (Photo by Dawn Fanara/fanaraphoto.com)

Thomas Castro got the Red Devils (1-11) on the board when he ​converted a penalty kick after a hand ball in the box with ​just under 25 minutes remaining.

​​The Bulldogs then clamped down defensively and didn’t allow​ any serious scoring chances in the final 10-15 minutes after​ Stratford created some opportunities in the first 20 minutes of the​ second half.

Goalkeeper Owen Jaekle recorded three saves for ​Bunnell.

​​”I thought we had most of the possession but they were ​certainly on the counter attack in the second half and they ​were able to earn a penalty,” Baccielo added. “They have good​ athletes up top. If you’re not organized, they can cause​ problems which they certainly did in the second half.”​​

With 6:50 left in the first half, Stratford lost starting ​goalkeeper Justin Forizs, who suffered an abdominal injury​ when he fell on his stomach during a collision with a Bunnell​ player in front of the net.​​

Forizs, who was helped off the field, was replaced by Dylan​ Richards. The two Stratford goalkeepers combined for five ​saves.​​

Stratford played Bunnell on Saturday at Penders Field. (Photo by Dawn Fanara/fanaraphoto.com).

The Red Devils entered Saturday’s contest having allowed 51​ goals in 11 games and were coming off a 7-0 defeat to Weston, ​so coach Ryan Jockers was encouraged that his team blanked ​Bunnell in the first half.​​

All season, however, Stratford has been hurt by allowing​ goals early in the second half and that again was the case​ on Saturday.​​

“I thought it was a fair result,” Jockers said. “We played ​well in the first half. I thought we were doing some of the ​things that we’ve been talking about a little bit better. We’ve ​ been talking a lot to them about spatial awareness and making ​good decisions and being responsible defensively.​​

“I felt going into the second half that the game was ours but ​what happened in the second half is what has happened in almost ​all our games,” the coach added. “Within the first five minutes we give up a goal.”

With 35:25 remaining, the Bulldogs broke through as Michael​ Perry fed a pass into the box to Celestin, who drill a shot ​high inside the right crossbar​

At the 29:53 mark, Polica scored on a spectacular individual​ effort as he cut around a Stratford defender and snapped a low​shot inside the right post.​​

Stratford played Bunnell on Saturday at Penders Field. (Photo by Dawn Fanara/fanaraphoto.com)

While disappointed in the outcome, Jockers recognized that ​ Saturday’s performance was an improvement from past games for ​the Red Devils, whose only win was a 1-0 victory over a 10-man​ Kolbe-Cathedral squad.​​

“Bunnell has some really fast attackers and they were giving​ us trouble, but my center defenders played really well against​ them,” Jockers said. ​​”I am pleased with the effort they put in today in terms of ​ their work rate. To come in against a much-improved Bunnell ​team with this result, I’m not miserable.”​​

The Bulldogs have a huge week ahead with pivotal contests​ against Newtown (7-5-1) on Tuesday and at Barlow (6-4-2) on ​Thursday.​​

Bunnell then hosts Stratford on Saturday in a makeup of a​ contest that was postponed earlier this week before concluding​ the regular against Harding in a non-league contest on Oct. 30.

“We’re in the mix,” Baccielo said, “but we have tough games​ ahead.”​

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