Conn wants his­tory to re­peat it­self

Camels want to fol­low up pro­gram’s first NCAA win with an­other one to­day

The Day - - SPORTS - By GAVIN KEEFE Day Sports Writer

New London — The mag­ni­tude of the re­sult sunk in dur­ing the postgame cel­e­bra­tion.

The Con­necti­cut Col­lege men's soc­cer team won the pro­gram's first NCAA Divi­sion III tour­na­ment game with a con­vinc­ing 4-0 shutout of Thomas Col­lege on Satur­day.

And the Camels, first time NCAA tour­na­ment hosts, did it be­fore an en­thu­si­as­tic home crowd of ap­prox­i­mately 600 fans at a cool, windy Free­man Field.

"Ob­vi­ously, it's a big mo­ment for the pro­gram," ju­nior Freddy Stokes said. "We've never done this be­fore. We've never won an NCAA game. To be able to do that is pretty awe­some."

The mo­ment cer­tainly wasn't too big for the Camels, who dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion from the start and held a 25-2 edge in shots. Three dif­fer­ent play­ers, in­clud­ing ju­nior re­serve Manny Bal­bon­tin, who scored the last two goals to ice the win, found the back of the net for the Camels. Goalie AJ Mar­cucci needed to stop only two shots to earn the shutout.

A chance to make pro­gram his­tory served as added mo­ti­va­tion be­yond post-sea­son glory.

"We talked about it be­fore the game and we told the guys that they de­served to make his­tory," as­sis­tant coach Reuben Burk said. "They just needed to go out and ex­e­cute. They're all buzzing be­cause they know the sig­nif­i­cance of it."

Burk and fel­low as­sis­tant Peter Carli were in charge Satur­day be­cause head coach Kenny Mur­phy was out of town at­tend­ing his daugh­ter's wed­ding. Mur­phy kept in con­tact by cell phone.

With their in­spired team play, the Camels heeded Mur­phy's ad­vice.

"Murph is emo­tion­ally im­por­tant to our team and he ded­i­cates a lot of time and ef­fort to the pro­gram," Stokes said. "But, as he says, it's our team, it's not his team. I think we showed that to­day."

Mur­phy will be back on the side­line to­day when Conn (132-2) plays Ramapo (N.J.) Col­lege (16-3-2), a 2-0 win­ner over Spring­field, at 1 p.m. in the sec­ond round. The fi­nal mar­gin of vic­tory Satur­day was a bit de­ceiv­ing. The Camels led by just one goal at half­time de­spite buzzing all around the Thomas goal. They could con­vert only one of 11 shots, as sopho­more Liam Noo­nan took a pass from se­nior Ben Manoogian and scored from the doorstep about 15 min­utes into the game.

Frus­tra­tion built up on both sides early in the sec­ond half. The Camels con­tin­ued to fail to con­vert golden scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties while the Ter­ri­ers (14-5-1) strug­gled just to cross mid­field at times.

"The game was a lit­tle bit frus­trat­ing in the sense it took us a long time to get the sec­ond one," Burk said. "Credit to the guys who kept per­se­ver­ing and kept tak­ing the game to them." The sec­ond goal came from an un­likely source. Stokes, a de­fender, pushed for­ward into the at­tack and un­leashed a laser from about 35 yards out that glanced off goalie Jonathan Dutka's raised hands and went in for a 2-0 edge at the 70:38 mark.

Af­ter scor­ing his first col­le­giate goal, Stokes ran over to the bench to cel­e­brate with his team­mates.

"I missed all of last year with a torn ACL, so that was a big mo­ment for me to come back and get the first one like that," Stokes said. "I don't score very of­ten, but it's al­ways fun, es­pe­cially on this stage." The Camels took off from there. About two min­utes later, Bal­bon­tin make a nifty move at the top of the box to cre­ate some space and hit a well-placed shot into the far cor­ner. He added an­other goal just over 12 min­utes later.

The four-goal win rep­re­sented the largest mar­gin of vic­tory for the Camels since a 5-0 sea­son-open­ing win ver­sus Mitchell Col­lege. The Camels aren't sat­is­fied with en­ter­ing the pro­gram record books. They want to add to their post-sea­son win to­tal. They had gone 0-2 in their pre­vi­ous two NCAA trips (1995, 2017).

"It's a very fo­cused, mo­ti­vated group," Burk said. "The big­gest thing we have to con­cen­trate on is tac­tics and re­ally im­ple­ment­ing our style. Mo­ti­va­tion is not an is­sue." g.keefe@the­day.com

SEAN D. EL­LIOT/THE DAY

Con­necti­cut Col­lege’s Justin Mi­randa (26) and Thomas Col­lege’s Robert Ochan go up for the ball dur­ing Satur­day’s NCAA Divi­sion III first-round match at Free­man Field. The Camels rolled to a 4-0 vic­tory and will play Ramapo (N.J.) in Sun­day’s sec­ond round.

SEAN D. EL­LIOT/THE DAY

Con­necti­cut Col­lege’s MT Tshuma (9) tan­gles with Thomas Col­lege goalie Jonathan Dutka dur­ing Satur­day’s NCAA Divi­sion III men’s soc­cer tour­na­ment first-round game at Free­man Field. The Camels won 4-0 and will host Ramapo (N.J.) in to­day’s sec­ond round at 1 p.m.

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