Suffield's win music to Gnatek's ears

·8 min read

Nov. 12—SUFFIELD — A ball hitting off the crossbar is a sound that every soccer player has heard at one point or another in his career.

Suffield High boys soccer goalie Craig Gnatek is no exception.

But when the sophomore heard that sound during the Wildcats' penalty shootout with Waterford in Thursday's Class M tournament second-round game, it struck a different tone.

"It was the sweetest thing I've ever heard playing in a game of soccer," Gnatek said. "Then all the students and all my teammates erupted. That was even better than the crossbar. That was the greatest sound I've ever heard."

Senior Zachary O'Connor's goal in the penalty shootout put the Wildcats up, and Giovanni Ortiz's shot off the crossbar clinched No. 2 Suffield a 1-0 (3-0 penalty kicks) win over No. 18 Waterford at Ted Beneski Field.

The win gives Suffield (17-1-0) its 13th-straight win, and its first quarterfinals berth since 2017. The Wildcats host No. 7 Joel Barlow in the quarterfinals Saturday at Suffield High.

The Falcons (15-2-3) topped No. 10 Morgan 2-1 in the second round Thursday.

"They're tough," Suffield coach Mark Cervione said. "We've had them in years before. They are a beyond solid squad. It'll be a battle."

Waterford finishes the season 10-8-0.

Suffield junior Nick Van Cott opened the penalty shootout by beating goalie Timothy Silva to the bottom right.

As Gnatek stepped into the goal to face his first shot, he tried to keep himself calm.

"Trying to follow up after that (goal) was really difficult because of all the students standing, all my teammates watching from half, all the fans. Being in front of everyone, it took a while to get in," Gnatek said. "Once I was there, I was like 'all right, I've done PK shots before and we just have to get a job done.'"

The sophomore stopped Colin Palazzo's shot dead center. Teammate Timothy Tkacz followed that by burying his attempt while Donovan Bousque's shot went over the goal to keep the hosts up 2-0 after two rounds.

Next it was O'Connor's turn. He placed his shot into the upper right corner.

"As soon as I saw Craig save that shot, I knew that as soon as I scored that, that was going to be the winner," O'Connor said. "Really all you have to do is drown out everything...Then you take your steps back, you line it up. You already know where you're going before you take the kick."

Cervione said his team doesn't work on penalty kicks until the tournament starts. Then it works on them multiple times each day.

"We ask them all the time who wants to do it," Cervione added. "We don't make anyone do it. We want them to be confident."

After O'Connor's score, Ortiz stepped up to kick hoping to keep the Lancers alive.

"I dove left, and I was so far low," Gnatek said with a chuckle. "I was so low, and I thought it was going straight over my head into the top half of the net. But then I heard it rattle off the crossbar."

Then the celebrations began.

"That was so much fun, but I never want to do PKs again," Gnatek said with a laugh.

Defense and goaltending ruled the first 100 minutes of Thursday's game. Still, the Wildcats had plenty of chances to break through.

But it seemed like nothing went Suffield's way, whether it be a through ball or clearance that was just a bit too long, a cross into the penalty area that no one was there for, a save by Silva, or just a bit of bad luck.

"Like (assistant coach) Anthony (Cervione) said, we could've fallen out of the boat and not found water tonight," Mark Cervione said.

Perhaps the best example of that bad luck came midway through the second half. A corner was sent into a scrum in front of the net. Suffield fired a shot, but Silva's quick reaction kept it out.

Junior Dan Robb was there for the rebound. His shot hit the bottom of the crossbar and landed on the goal line before it was cleared out.

"We have a lot of, we call them Kodak moments. A lot of these guys freeze instead of going to get the garbage coming out," Cervione said. "But it's a young squad we have, and they have learning to do."

Gnatek finished with seven saves in the win while Silva stopped 12 shots in the loss.

As the Wildcats prep for Joel Barlow, O'Connor feels that Thursday's game will only help the team moving forward.

"We're battle-tested, and we went through PKs," O'Connor said. "So, we know that we can win if we go to PKs. It's not like 'oh if we go to PKs, we're going to lose.'

"We know we can do it in regulation, and we can do it in PKs. Give us whatever and we'll go through."

ELLINGTON 3, WOODLAND 0. In Beacon Falls, Vince Sivo scored twice as the 12th-seeded Knights ousted the fifth-seeded Hawks to advance to the quarterfinals.

Ellington (12-4-2) has made it to at least the quarterfinals of the Class M tournament each year since 2016. The Knights travel to Milford to play No. 4 Jonathan Law in the quarterfinals Saturday. The Lawmen (16-2-1) topped No. 20 Norwich Tech 3-0 Thursday.

Sivo scored his first goal 15 minutes into the game after receiving a through ball from Kevin Desrocher. Ten minutes later, Ryan Dieterle deflected a ball from the Woodland goalie into the goal to put the Knights up 2-0.

Sivo completed the scoring six minutes before halftime thanks to a pass from Eric Thibert. JJ Takach stopped two shots for Ellington.

Class L

AVON 2, WINDSOR 1 (PK). In Avon, Nate Tiffany's goal in a penalty shootout propelled the 22nd-seeded Falcons over No. 27 Windsor and into the quarterfinals.

With the penalty shootout tied at three, Tiffany beat goalie Breon Parker to clinch the game.

Lincoln Freeman opened the scoring for Avon 11 minutes into the game.

But Windsor (7-8-1) replied with six minutes left in the first half when Justin Dawkins headed in a pass from Will Stillman. It was his 22nd goal of the season.

Parker finished five saves, as did Avon's Eli Diesenhof.

Class LL

XAVIER 2, GLASTONBURY 1 (PK). In Middletown, top-seeded Xavier survived an upset bid from No. 16 Glastonbury to earn its first Class LL quarterfinal berth since 2013.

The Falcons, 18-0-2 and ranked No. 1 in the Class LL/L coaches poll, will host No. 8 Darien Saturday.

Glastonbury (9-6-3) wasn't intimidated. Will Greelish's goal with nine minutes left in the first half gave the Guardians a lead at the break. It stayed 1-0 until 11:38 remained when Bryant University-bound senior Jack Polke converted a penalty kick.

It remained tied through the end of regulation and two 10-minutes overtimes. In penalty kicks, the Falcons were 4-for-4 while Glastonbury was 2-for-4.

Class S

BOLTON 4, PARISH HILL 1. In Chaplin, Dylan Bonanno notched a hat trick as No. 19 Bolton cruised past third-seeded Parish Hill to punch its ticket to the quarterfinals.

Bolton (10-6-2) will visit No. 6 Somers in the quarterfinals Saturday.

Somers beat the Bulldogs 3-2 on Oct. 11 in Bolton in the teams' only regular season meeting.

Bonanno hit the back of the net 10 minutes into the first half to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. Dimani Rainford doubled the visitors' lead 11 minutes later.

Michael Monroe cut the Pirates' deficit to one at the 33 minute mark but Bonanno answered with goals at the 65 and 77 minute marks to provide the final margin of victory.

Sam Segar made seven saves in his first career start in goal for the Bulldogs. Andrew Baranov, Finn Alibrio and Somari Brown all played well for the visitors.

Gabe Victoria finished with 10 saves for Parish Hill (14-3-0).

EAST CATHOLIC 5, AEROSPACE 0. Jack Kidney and Cooper Gentile each scored twice as the 21st-seeded Eagles routed the fifth-seeded Jets in a second-round game at Civic Leadership High in Enfield.

The win gives East Catholic (8-5-5) its first quarterfinals berth since 2007. The Eagles will travel to No. 4 Griswold Saturday.

East Catholic led 2-0 at the half Thursday thanks to goals from Kidney and Killian Boyle. Trent Sargent assisted on both.

Once the second half began, the Eagles picked up right where they left off. Gentile scored twice in the half while Kidney had one.

Senior goalie AJ Bushnell only needed to make one save in the win.

For coverage of the Connecticut Sun and professional women's basketball, Hartford Athletic pro soccer team, as well as area high school and local youth sports, follow Adam Betz on Twitter: @AdBetz1, Facebook: Adam Betz — Sports Writer, and Instagram: @AdBetzJI.

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