Pictured: East Hampton keeper Drew DiStefano gets to the ball before Cromwell’s Zach Randazzo can make a play on goal in the final minute of the first half Monday.
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – The upper echelon of Shoreline Conference boys soccer this fall includes Cromwell, Old Lyme, Valley Regional and Old Saybrook.
Cromwell coach Angelo Morello said he hopes people don’t forget about East Hampton following their scoreless tie Monday at Cromwell High School.
East Hampton ended Cromwell’s three-game winning streak to start the season.
“I would put East Hampton right in that mix,” Morello said. “I think they have solid goaltending and a solid defense. (Senior Jack) Piper plays well in the middle, along with (senior) Justin Landon, and if they could just get a finisher beside Justin … .”
The Bellringers are unbeaten in their last three after losing to Old Saybrook in their Oct. 1 opener.
“Cromwell’s got a lot of depth and is a really good, quality team — as we are,” Bellringers coach Rocco Christiana said. “I knew coming into this game that a tie would be a win. We played compact, a strong middle, and we tried to move the ball efficiently. We stayed compact, we stayed tight, we made sure the defense didn’t travel. We were a wall today against a quality team.”
Morello knows the Bellringers well, having coached most on the current roster at East Hampton Middle School before getting the opportunity to run Cromwell’s varsity program. His respect for them over the years was obvious again.
“East Hampton has been tough on these guys (Cromwell) from the middle school up,” he said. “Today we had to break that line. They played five guys in the back. I tried all kinds of matching against their defense with certain people, just to get a little spark.”
The last four meetings between Cromwell and East Hampton have been low-scoring ties, and this latest installment continued the trend. Monday’s match was dictated by the defenses and keepers. Each side had just a handful of good looks at the net.
“Cromwell is a great team and we love playing them,” said Christiana. “I am not disappointed whatsoever with the result. If you come out here and give everything you’ve got, and they give everything they’ve got and you walk off at 0-0, the boys can’t be disappointed. We’re proud of that.”
Cromwell nearly took the lead in the final minute of the first half, but East Hampton junior keeper Drew DiStefano beat Zach Randazzo to a lead pass and gathered the ball, thwarting the chance.
East Hampton had a couple of good chances earlier in the half, but 6-foot-3 Cromwell keeper James Grodzicki was impenetrable. The senior, who has yet to give up a goal in four matches, finished with seven saves. Morello said Grodzicki, a basketball and baseball player, has added 15 pounds of muscle since the 2019 soccer season.
“A tremendous goalie,” Christiana noted. “When you’ve got a goalie like that, it’s like putting two guys in the goal and 10 on the field.”
DiStefano was equally up to the task in his net. In the opening five minutes of the second half, he deflected shots by Chris Jordan and Randazzo, Cromwell’s two best chances over 80 minutes. The Randazzo deflection, which followed a corner kick, ticked off the crossbar.
Christiana said one of the keys to the game was his team owning a lot of the 50-50 balls.
“If we struggle with the 50-50 ball, I told them we will lose this game,” he said. “And I think we won 75 percent of the 50-50 balls, which made a huge difference. And again, we were pressing them so heavy, so high, that they were leaving one striker versus three defenders. So we were able to settle, rebuild our attack and just keep moving forward.”
The 12-team Shoreline is playing an 11-game schedule, five fewer than in a normal year and with no state tournament, because of restrictions brought on by the coronavirus.
Cromwell was a conference and Class semifinalist last year behind the scoring wizardry of Anthony Caracoglia. Morello said this year’s squad has more scoring options.
“We have multiple kids who can put the ball in the goal,” he said, “and I think our tactical play is better this year and I think we’re better in ball possession. And I think our outside backs – and nothing against our outside backs last year; I thought they were good – but I think Nick (Beck) and Aiden (Snyder) have grown this year, along with Tyler (Robinson).”
“I felt we got out of our game today, but we had to kind of do something like that to beat their defense,” he said, referring to the Bellringers. “Their defense was solid in the first half. Second half, we just couldn’t break them. We had a couple of chances, a couple of nice corners kicks and set plays that worked to perfection, but we just couldn’t score.”