Pictured: Alex Barnat, who scored two goals for Cromwell, takes a second-half shot in Monday’s home match against Coginchaug. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL – The Cromwell boys soccer team spent the weekend brushing away the nasty taste of a season-opening out-of-conference loss to Rockville.

The Panthers are short on experienced players this season, but coach Angelo Morello said it’s not an excuse to play below-standards soccer.

“Nothing to take away from Rockville, but no way they were better than us 4-0, but that’s how we played,” he said. “There has to be a sense of pride here at this school and with this team. Everything starts with me. I’m disappointed in myself that we didn’t play well enough.”

That wasn’t the case on Monday. Cromwell was sharp and “in sync” in its first Shoreline Conference match of the year, a 6-1 victory over Coginchaug.

Senior Alex Barnat scored two goals and Logan Fox had a goal and four assists as the Panthers leveled their record at 1-1 ahead of Wednesday’s match at North Branford.

Senior Sam Whittle scored on an assist from junior Conor Ullman after the Panthers had gone ahead 5-0 midway through the second half.

Ahead 2-0 at the break on goals by Fox and Barnat, Cromwell pounded the net in the first 10 minutes of the second half to put away the match.

Coginchaug senior Sam Whittle scored the lone Blue Devils goal. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

After Coginchaug sophomore Logan Bender turned away a couple of hard shots early in the second half, Daniel Tuminski put one away with 7:43 gone for a 3-0 Cromwell advantage. Five minutes later, Jacob Salafia headed in a cross from Fox.

“Logan’s big and he’ll be big all year for us,” Morello said. “It’s what we needed out of him today. Logan can play and he’s not afraid to shoot, and he got his teammates involved today. And that’s what I want to see, too.”

Just 1:19 later, Barnat powered a shot past Bender for a five-goal lead. After Whittle go the Blue Devils (1-1) on the board, junior Kai McLarney gave the Panthers their final score on the afternoon.

“I just loved how they played today,” Morello said. “The energy level was better, they were going to the ball better. Today was our day. We capitalized. You score six goals in a soccer game, it’s good.”

Fox at striker, center-mid Austin Antonaras and Nick Beck in the back – the team’s captains — are the only returning varsity players. It’s going to take time for his team to find itself, Morello said.

Junior Jacob Salafia scored the Panthers’ fourth goal of the match early in the second half. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

“We have eight new guys on the field and not much of a bench. We’re still developing the bench,” he said. “But I’m very pleased with this performance.”

Over the next couple of weeks, Morello said he wants “to see more of what I saw today, playing together, gelling, communication, feeling each other out. Today we were in sync. Friday, we were not in sync at all. It’s a new team out there feeling each other out.”

“I want to see just good Cromwell soccer,” he added. “We’re not going to play kick and run, that’s not our style. We play possession (soccer) and I want to play to the outside. I want to see movement and us be organized in the back. It’s a lot of pressure on Nick to have two sophomores and a freshman with him and an senior untested goalie (Donnie Hermann, who have four saves). That’s a lot of pressure on them, but they responded today. If we’re going to compete with the upper (Shoreline) teams, this is the kind of performance we have to have.”

Coginchaug coach Matt Thompson is coming at his team’s season from an entirely different angle. The Blue Devils have six seniors on the roster, but only three played as juniors – and not in an ideal setting; the season was shortened by almost half due to COVID protocols, and there was no postseason.

Thompson said he recently assumed the lead role with the Durham/Middlefield town program, so he is trying to make over a feeder system “that’s pretty bare right now.”

“I’m trying to make some changes and we need a lot of them,” he said. “The fundamentals aren’t there. We have some freshmen (at Coginchaug) that are looking really good, but they’re freshmen and it’s hard for them to compete. And we’re also dealing with some culture stuff. The opportunity for the younger kids to get time and learn is key.”

Patience from everyone will be paramount. With an improved culture and players committing to both the high school and town programs, the Blue Devils “could be good next year, two years from now for sure.”

“This is not what I was doing (coaching) two years ago,” he said. “We worked on legal throw-ins for 30 minutes five days ago. That’s where we’re at. We just have to keep playing. Honestly, it’s the kind of crew we’re going to be this year. We’re going to get marginally better and tweak some things to be more defensive. We’ll get there. We just have to stay in games that are competitive and keep the culture positive so that the kids who are good that are young learn the right way to play.”

Coginchaug visits defending Shoreline champion Haddam-Killingworth on Thursday.

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