Tested Panthers blank Whalers en route to quarterfinal round

·3 min read

Nov. 12—NEW LONDON — Playing in the Central Connecticut Conference during the regular season will get you prepared for anything by the time the CIAC state soccer tournament rolls around.

Competition leaves you battle- tested.

Those tests are paying off today for the E. O. Smith boys soccer team and it has helped the Panthers land in the Class L quarterfinals.

Thad Hempel scored a pair of goals off corner kicks and Garrett Ballou ( 5 saves) recorded the clean sheet in goal as No. 23 E. O. Smith ( 9- 5- 4) moved into the Elite Eight of Class L late Thursday afternoon with a 4-0 second-round win over No. 7 New London (13-6) at Cannamela Field.

" They've all been playing their hearts out all season long," E. O. Smith coach Mike Radlbeck said of his players.

" The results always haven't come in the regular season playing with our tough schedule in the CCC. It's very fulfilling to see it finally pay off."

Ballou made several acrobatic saves, knocking the ball over the crossbar twice in the opening 10 minutes as the two sides had a bit of a feeling out process.

E. O. Smith broke the scoreless deadlock about a minute after a cross into the box from Jake Stavens was cleared out leading to a corner kick.

Griffen Stacey served the corner into the box and Hempel was in the right place at the right time, heading the ball off the inside of the left post away from New London keeper Anthony Martinez that deflected back into the goal at the 15: 58 mark for a 1- 0 lead.

" They actually drew that up themselves," Radlbeck said. " It was a very wellplaced shot. We had started to put some pressure on and it was nice to see that one get us on the board."

The Panthers nearly made it a 2- goal advantage in the final minute of the first half when Stacey narrowly missed the upper right corner following a counterattack on offense.

The defensive four in front of Ballou — Diego Caballero, Jacob Bernstein, Henry Christenson and Hempel — were strong and did not allow many good opportunities from the hosts over the final 20 minutes before the halftime break.

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Panthers advance

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Ballou, who saved a pair of penalty kick attempts during E. O. Smith's first- round win at Bethel, had another leaping stop to deny Jose Hernandez's bid for an equalizing goal seven minutes into the second half.

" He's been huge all year for us," Radlbeck said of Ballou.

"Throughout the year, he's quietly been keeping us in games. That solid play is paying off when it matters the most. It's good to see him getting recognition right now for his hard work."

Alessio Cassa gave E.O. Smith a 2- 0 lead as he knocked in a loose ball following a long throw-in from Nick Simpson that bounced around inside the 18 10 minutes after the break.

Over the final 10 minutes, the Panthers tacked on a pair of insurance goals to put the game away.

Hempel scored his second goal of the game off another well- placed corner from Stacey in the 74th minute and Bernstein found the back of the net on a free kick from about 30 yards in the 76th minute.

Next up for E. O. Smith is a quarterfinal-round game against No. 2 seed Watertown (16-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Indians, the Naugatuck Valley League tournament runners- up, rallied from a 3- 1 second- half deficit and scored twice in overtime for a wild 6-4 second-round victory over No. 18 seed Brookfield.

Follow Rich Zalusky on Twitter — @rmzaluskytc.

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