STRATFORD—There were no trophies handed out to the Bunnell boys soccer team following the No. 16 seed Bulldogs’ 3-1 Class L first-round tournament win over No. 17 Torrington at Mastroni Field on a mild Monday afternoon.
There’s a prize, however, because Bunnell has earned a trip to Bristol on Wednesday afternoon to meet top-ranked Bristol Eastern (14-0-2) in a second-round game.
That’s what happens when you’re the winner of the 16-17 game. Two years ago, the teams met in a classic play-in game with Bunnell, the lower seed, going on the beat the Red Raiders, 5-4, in double overtime.
“It’s alright,” said Bunnell’s Jojo Lumasag, who had a goal and an assist in the game. “They may be the top-ranked squad in the tournament, but they’re still another high school soccer team. We’re going to stay humble. A win over them would be great. If we’re able to do it, we still don’t celebrate. We just move on.”
Bunnell used a faster pace and long through balls to get behind Torrington’s backline, which moved a little closer to mid-field than second-year head coach Joe Baccielo had anticipated.
“They wanted to press most of the time,” Baccielo said. “It surprised me. Our tempo wasn’t good early. In fact, I thought we played poorly for the first 25-30 minutes. Once we got going and picked it up, we were fine. Playing the way they did worked right into our hands.”
Torrington, 9-8-1, took the initial lead in the game’s 27th minute as Janos Herczeg found some space in the middle of the Bunnell defense and fired a high shot from 20 yards out, which was above the reach of Bulldogs’ goalie Owen Jaekle.
“Even though we fell behind, we kept our heads. We weren’t about to panic,” Baccielo said. “We’ve been down in games before this year.”
It only took seven minutes for the Bulldogs to get the equalizer which came on a well-placed corner kick by the Lumasag, who hooked the ball just inside the near post. The ball deflected off a defender’s head and into the net.
“We had a few shots on that kid (Kevin Hidrovo) before my corner kick,” Lumasag said. “I saw that he was athletic and could jump. I studied him a little. My plan was to put it close near the post and yelled to our guys to crowd the box. What I wanted to do was disable him. Get enough players in his way, and it worked.”
It also fired up his teammates, who began counter-attacking and looking for through balls.
Shortly after, Jaekle made a fine hand save on a semi-breakaway by the Red Raiders.
Bunnell scored again as the team’s leading scorer Quinton Budnick took a pass from Reece Seperack and pounded a line-drive shot past Hidrovo to the goalies’ left.
It sent Bunnell to its locker room with a small 2-1 margin as each team produced six shots in the opening half.
Although Torrington got several good chances, including one on an unsuccessful indirect kick late in the game, the second half belonged to the Bulldogs and Derick Celestin, who had three good runs and nearly scored with 20:32 when he almost outraced a diving Hidrovo to a loose ball.
“Anytime either myself or Quinton saw space we began sprinting and looking for the ball,” Celestin said. “I thought I almost had one there. It’s all about staying composed and having awareness. If you can do that, you’ll put the ball in the back of the net.”
Despite the pressure, the Red Raiders held up until Lamasag, who stands a bit over 5-feet tall, found himself free close to the end line. He bicycle-kicked the ball back just as his teammate Nicholas Petrino broke for the net. In one motion, Perino headed it in. Whatever energy that the visitors still had seemed to fade after that.
The final goal came with 11:36 to play.
Bunnell finished with a 12-10 edge in shots. Both goalies had three saves while Bunnell had three corner kicks (all by Lumasag) and Torrington had one.
The Bulldogs also held a 9-8 edge in free kicks.
“JoJo may be the smallest player on the field, but he’s a really big player for us,” Baccielo said. “He’s quick and great with the ball. Here’s a kid playing central mid and he gets a goal and an assist for us today. That’s great point production.”
Celestin is looking forward to the challenge that the game at Bristol Eastern presents for both himself and his team.
“You work so hard in preseason, through the heat and tough days, to get to this,” he said. “We’re just trying to go as far in the tournament as we can. We didn’t do well in the SWCs (Bunnell was knocked out by eventual champion Pomperaug, 4-0, in the first round), so this could be some redemption for us.”
After going through a 1-14-1 season and not qualifying in 2018, Baccielo now has his team heading into the second round.
“It really becomes an unknown factor when you get to the tournament, unless you happen to face a conference team,” he said. “We don’t know a lot about them. People know about us because we video every one of our games. They don’t. I’ve tried to pick up a little, to see if they have one or two outstanding players and to figure out what style they play. Do they like to play fast and long or do they like to possess?”
The coach said he’ll draw up a game plan in Tuesday’s practice, then get on the bus on Wednesday, make a few early-game adjustments, and see what happens.
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