Staples boys soccer three-peats as FCIAC champs
Champions find a way to win.
The Staples boys' soccer team, winners of the last two FCIAC titles, made it three in a row on Wednesday night, fending off a late charge by Fairfield Warde to walk away 2-1 winners.
Staples' longtime coach Dan Woog acknowledged this was the most competitive championship game of the last three years, citing Warde's resolve when Staples took the lead early in the second half.
"Without slighting the teams we faced in the last two years, this was by far the toughest," Woog said. "This was their first final and for them to step up and come back after we scored proved they deserved to be here."
After a back-and-forth first half, Staples took the lead in the first minute after the restart when Brenden Lesch, the game's MVP, headed the ball to Greg Gudis at the top of the box. Gudis settled the ball and ripped a shot that Warde goalkeeper Dylan Strachen could only get a fingertip on.
Warde responded two minutes later to make it 1-1 when Kevin Petroccio curled an excellent shot inside the far post past Staples sophomore goalkeeper James Hickok after a long throw by Guthrie Carpenter was headed into his path by Sal Siciliano.
"I think the most important thing in this game was that we displayed our character," Warde head coach Justin Ottavio said. "As soon as Staples scored the first goal we could have packed it in."
Staples utilized the long throw in capabilities of Mikey Scott throughout the game, and in the 54th minute got the eventual winner.
Scott's weapon proved instrumental even when he didn't use it. Instead of making a long throw into the box as expected, he played it short to Jake Krosse. Krosse made a touch and took a long shot that Strachen couldn't hold. Strachen recovered in time to save Court Lake's rebound, but the ball fell to Lesch inside the penalty area and he made no mistake with the finish, guiding it inside the far post for a 2-1 advanatge.
Warde pushed from that moment until the final whistle. During the last 15 minutes, Conner Gavey hit a free kick that barely went over the bar while Siciliano got free for a header two minutes later that also looped wide.
Warde's best chance in the waning moments came three minutes from time when Hickok tipped Ryan Gavey's long-range effort destined for the top corner off the bar.
"It was definitely stressful at the end with us one goal up," Hickok said. "I just knew I had to save it. That's it. All seven of the starting seniors were so pumped for the game and it made me step up my game."
Warde, in its first-ever FCIAC final, has officially made its mark on the league with the performance.
"We still have a lot left," Ottavio said, alluding to the state tournament, which starts next week. "We were very assertive in the last 15 minutes, unfortunately we hit a post and missed the free kick. The goal eluded us but I can't be more proud. The season is still young, hopefully.
"The league, without question, has seen our progress, how far we have come in a short time," Ottavio added. "We have earned everyone's respect."
Staples will carry its 16-game unbeaten streak into the state tournament next week. Lesch, a member of all three championship teams, knows his team has the depth and ability to repeat last year's state championship.
"This means so much to all the guys, whether they were with us for three, two, or just this one," Lesch said about the three-peat. "We all understand what it means and everyone stepped up at different point in the game and the season.
"Tonight was a battle, in those last 15 minutes especially, they showed their character" Lesch added about his opponents. "We will enjoy the celebration this week, then get focused for states on Monday."