WESTPORT — The Westport High School boys’ soccer team clinched a state tournament berth Monday thanks to a 5-1 win over Tri-County Tech in Westport.
After starting the season with four straight losses, three of them non-leagues setbacks which do not count toward the Wildcats’ state tournament record, Westport has compiled a 6-2-2 mark and now stands 6-3-2 in Mayflower League play.
“This season has been a learning process for a lot of guys,” Westport coach Mark Nardelli said. “We have a lot of new players and a lot of new positions. It took me a while as a coach to find the best combinations out there. Really we just got settled in all of our positions two or three games ago.”
Westport broke out quickly against the visitors Monday, pressured the Tri-County defense and earned a
corner kick. Cam Beaulieu lofted the ball toward the near post where Rich Hartnett rose above the crowd and banged it into the back of the net with his noggin just four minutes into the match.
“We work hard on our corner kicks,” Nardelli said. “A lot of scoring opportunities for us, and for everybody, comes off corner kicks. So we’ve got to be organized and you’ve got to come out there and deliver good set pieces.”
Tom Yeargin doubled the advantage nine minutes later when he ran onto a hard Chris Hartnett through ball and one-touched it past charging goalie RJ Kapala into the right corner of the net.
The pace slowed after Yeargin’s goal and Tri-County took advantage. A foul by Westport gave the Cougars a free kick just inside midfield. Sean Martin quickly put the ball in play on a line toward the left side of the Westport goal. Connor Strom broke for the ball and banged it home to make it 2-1 midway through the half.
“The first 10 minutes we were playing really good,” said Nardelli. “After we got that 2-0 lead they let off the gas a little bit.
“A guy gets beat back post. The goalie got caught falling asleep a little bit, didn’t come out, that’s a goal. It’s 2-1 and it’s not such a safe lead anymore.”
Westport picked up the pressure but had bad luck trying to add another score before the half ended. The Wildcats nearly had another goal off a corner kick but Tri-County defender Marco Giorgio stopped the ball with his body to prevent it from going into the goal and booted it away. Yeargin almost scored too but his header clanged off the crossbar and the half drew to a close shortly afterward.
“I told them at halftime we can’t let our foot off the gas. We’ve got to play 80 minutes of good soccer together. We can’t revert back to chip-and-run. We have to start stringing passes together, playing simple and playing dangerous soccer.”
Westport opened the second half with some more chances but still couldn’t break through. Finally Yeargin took matters into his own hands. He got the ball in the penalty area but was surrounded by defenders. Nevertheless he tried to maneuver left but couldn’t get a shot off. He dribbled back to the right, found an opening and fired a shot into the goal 17 minutes into the second half to establish a 3-1 lead.
“He went through four of them,” said Tri-County coach Rick Vernon. “People on other teams have better foot skills than the majority of our players. We don’t match up.”
Nardelli saw the play from a different point of view.
“I was about to tell Tommy he was taking too many touches and he put it right in the back of the net,” said the Westport coach. “So I can’t be angry with him about that. Tommy had a helluva game today both on the offensive and defensive ends.”
Six minutes later Yeargin delivered a pass to Shayne Lees on the right side just outside the penalty area. Lees dribbled as far as he could go, all the way to the end line, before turning and ripping a shot from a bad angle which found its way into the net for a 4-1 lead. Lees didn’t see the goal because he was knocked down.
Tri-County had a couple of scoring chances but failed to connect. On two occasions the Cougars got a step on a Westport defender but fired high or wide of the goal. Westport had a 19-7 shot advantage.
“We have trouble finishing,” Vernon said. “We don’t have the touch that’s necessary to do the finishing work. We do a pretty good job of creating the opportunities but we just can’t finish them.”
Chris Hartnett put Westport’s finishing touch on the game when he drilled home a 30-yard direct kick with one minute left for the final goal. Now the ‘Cats have a few games to prep for the postseason.
“We’ve got five more games left and we need to work out the bugs before we get in the state tournament,” Nardelli said. “By no means are we a finished product yet. We’ve got a long way to go. We need to play a lot better soccer if we’re going to be successful going forward against the better teams. Hopefully we’ll be peaking at the right time.”