By Paul Augeri
WEST HAVEN – Unbeaten Xavier won the Southern Connecticut Conference soccer championship in thrilling fashion Thursday night.
Ryan Gerry set up Finn Russell for the winning goal with 16.3 seconds left in overtime to lift the Falcons to a 1-0 victory over Cheshire at Ken Strong Stadium.
It was Xavier’s first SCC title in eight years. The Falcons (17-0-2) ride an eight-game winning streak into the CIAC Class LL tournament, where they will be the No. 1 seed, next week.
“We played so hard all game. We didn’t want to go home without that thing,” said Russell, motioning to the SCC championship plaque. “It was a great run by Ryan Gerry right down the line. I saw the ball come in and followed it right into the goal.”
Russell said he wasn’t aware that time was ticking down toward the likelihood of penalty kicks.
“This feels amazing, it really does,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, the Falcons cheered on Mercy as the Tigers won their first outright SCC championship over Amity, 5-4 on penalty kicks.
The Xavier-Cheshire match was fast and physical and indicative of the tenor of the rivals’ past meetings. In the regular season this year, the Falcons beat the Rams twice by 2-1 scores. The Rams received an outstanding second-half and overtime effort from goalkeeper Andres Diosa, who frequently left his feet to redirect Xavier’s best scoring chances.
“Hat’s off to their keeper. He made some phenomenal saves tonight,” Fitzgerald said. “We were kind of trying figure out how are we going to break him? How are we going to get by him? Their back line, they kept us honest and we had to start shooting from distance. So they did very well defensively on us.”
As overtime wore on, Fitzgerald said he sensed the Falcons were building up to a big opportunity to decide the match.
“You felt it was coming,” he said. “You felt it was coming.”
“Every time we play them it’s a tight game,” Fitzgerald added. “You go back two, three years, it’s always a one-goal game. Whenever we get together, it’s two good teams and they just want nothing more than to beat each other. The rivalry is a great thing. At the end of the day the kids are appreciative of the effort that the other team puts forth.
“This was a nice test. We waited until the last possible moment, but they passed it.”
Xavier senior Dylan Misenti was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Prior to the match, senior Brady Stevenson was named SCC Player of the Year.