By Corey Pollnow
Heading into the NEC semifinals on Friday versus St. Francis Brooklyn, the Central Men’s soccer team knew they would be playing without one of their captains, Stephen Walmsley.
Then 15 minutes before kick-off, the NEC regular season champions were hit with another blow. Central’s second captain, senior Jose Gamboa, discovered he was not cleared by the trainer to play. Gamboa and Walmsley had suffered concussions in the regular season finale against Bryant.
St. Francis Brooklyn had been on the losing end in the previous two match-ups versus CCSU, and the Terriers had not won the NEC tournament since 1998. However, St. Francis Brooklyn shocked the Blue Devils 2-0, and went on to win the championship 3-2 in overtime versus Bryant Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow when you lose both of your captains,” said Coach Shaun Green.
Kevin Correa scored his second goal in the 73rd minute when Central’s outside defensive back, Neekoli Calderon, momentarily lost Correa on a give and go from Gabriel Bagot. The mental mistake allowed Correa to gain enough distance to receive the ball deep in the penalty box, dribble once and power the shot past Central’s goalkeeper, Joe Abele.
“The second goal killed us,” said senior, Manny Nobre.
In the 61st minute Correa bent a shot over Central’s wall and past Abele. It was Correa’s first goal of the game and came off a free kick from 19 yards away on the right portion of the pitch.
“I thought we left the goal a little bit too much open on the left hand side,” said Green.
Central’s best scoring opportunity came in the 54th minute when Ben Knight curled a ball over three Terriers defenders, but the ball skimmed across the top of the crossbar and out of bounds.
“I thought Central came out and played great to start the second half and put us under pressure,” said Tom Giovatto, the Terriers head coach. “But Kevin got us two big goals.”
Abele saved three of St. Francis Brooklyn’s five shots on goal. The junior finishes the season with 66 saves, a save percentage of .786 and a goals against average of 1.24.
The Blue Devils and Terriers both tallied 12 shots for the game.
“We lost two keys players, Jose and Walsmey, but the other guys have to step in and do their job,” said Eddy Bogle.
On Friday evening Conor Qualter was named to the NEC All-Conference First team and received Rookie of the Year at the NEC banquet.
Central also had five players selected to the NEC All-Conference Second Team – Zach Zurita, Bogle, Abele, Walmsley, and Gamboa.
Green was named NEC Coach of the Year and also earned his 250th victory this season.
“Were proud of the season we had,” said Green, who recorded his third NEC Regular Season Championship this season in his 29th year at Central as head coach. “We thought this would be a two year rebuilding process, losing seven starters from last year. We thought we would nearly get into the playoffs, but we really excelled in our expectations.”
By Corey Pollnow