A late-game goal and some last-minute defensive heroics propelled the U12 Newtown Blaze boys’ soccer team to an unbeaten fall season and the South West Division tournament championship.
Newtown (8-0-2 overall) defeated Trumbull 5-2 this past Saturday, and completed its title run with a 2-1 victory over its most heated-rival, Weston, on a wind-swept, rain-soaked field Sunday in Wilton.
In all, co-captain Owen Baillargeon scored five goals and assisted on another over the two games — but his most important score came in the closing minutes against Weston. With the score tied in the closing minutes Sunday, Baillargeon gained possession at midfield, gathering in a punt from keeper Jeff Gioiele, and used his superior ball movement to beat three Weston defenders as he moved down field before slamming a shot past the outstretched reach of the Weston keeper.
In the closing two minutes, Weston — which had brought its keeper from the net into the action to take a man advantage in the Newtown end — had a solid shot on goal. Gioiele made a diving save, knocking the ball aside. As a Weston striker prepared to take another shot on net with Gioiele on the ground, Blaze defender Rick Irving swooped in and cleared the ball, helping secure the victory.
The championship matchup came only one week after Newtown survived another brutal battle with Weston in a game to decide the division’s top seed. And Sunday’s game was just as physical as a Weston striker, who was driving to the Newtown net, took out starting keeper JP Ford, injuring his knee in the opening seconds of the contest. That forced Gioiele into action in goal. And the move by Blaze coach Craig Hollis proved perfect, as Gioiele was able to use his height and athleticism to knock away several high, hard shots on net.
Newtown struck first, scoring midway through the first half. On a free kick, Baillargeon lofted a shot toward the Weston net which landed in front of the keeper where Tristan Andrew was waiting to punch it in. From there the game became more physical, with co-captain Jake Pare injured and forced out and Gioiele also taken out by a diving Weston striker as the first half came to a close.
Newtown’s defense, which has been a strength all season, was again led by Bryce Benson, Devin Johnson, Jonathan Liberante, and Will Pelisson. On offense, the strikers were set up by solid midfield work and passing from Zachary Masone, Rohan Mansukhani, Quinn McAndrew, and Constantine Kyprianou.
The Blaze had many near misses on offense in the second half, as Jalen Minter and Aidan Mullen put several shots on goal. Minter had two hard, undefended shots that the Weston keeper caught.
In the semifinal game win over Trumbull the day before Baillargeon scored three first-half goals and Ford was flawless in goal. In the second half, Baillargeon and Minter both scored to help secure the victory.