Wolcott boys soccer captures first NVL title in dramatic fashion

It was all joy, and maybe a tinge of disbelief, for the Wolcott boys soccer team, which completed its NVL tournament journey with the program’s first championship Wednesday night. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)

From the last team in to the last team standing.

That was the journey the Wolcott boys soccer team took during the Naugatuck Valley League tournament. The trip ended Wednesday night in dramatic fashion as the eighth-seeded Eagles stunned second-seeded Naugatuck, 1-1 (4-3 PK), at Municipal Stadium’s Ray Snyder Sr. Field to win their first NVL championship. Justin Cardinale fired home the final penalty kick, which set off a wild celebration for all of the red and white in attendance, from the players to the coaches to the fans.

As we often learn in the NCAA tournament, it may not be the best team, but the hottest team, that wins the championship. In terms of seeding, Wolcott was dead last. The Eagles began their push toward the NVL trophy with a quarterfinal upset of top-seeded Holy Cross. Wolcott beat fellow upstart, No. 5 Watertown, in the semifinal. That set up a championship confrontation with Naugatuck, which made its way back to the final after missing the tournament for the first time last year. The Greyhounds were looking for their first championship since 2019, while the Eagles aimed at their first.

Naugatuck struck first and led, 1-0, until there were under 17 minutes left in regulation. That’s when Cardinale took a short corner on the left side and played a perfect cross to J.J. Brenes, who was by the far post. Brenes headed the ball in, and the match was tied, 1-1, with 16:51 to go. The score remained tied through the rest of regulation and a pair of 10-minute overtime periods. One hundred minutes of soccer couldn’t determine the NVL champion, so it came down to penalty kicks.

Naugatuck scored first, but Wolcott responded with one from Dean McDonald. The Hounds made their second kick, but so did Tyson Brenes of the Eagles, 2-2. Wolcott keeper Sam Berninger stopped a Naugatuck shot, giving the Eagles the opening they needed.

Parker Zynda fired in the go-ahead goal, 3-2. A Greyhound shot went over, but keeper Daniel Anderson stopped the Eagle attempt to keep the score at 3-2 after four shots apiece. Naugatuck tied it up, 4-4, on its fifth and final attempt of the first round. That left it up to Cardinale. He went with the left foot to the left side of the goal, and the ball found the net, setting off a celebration a long time in the making for Wolcott.

GALLERY: Here are my photos from Wednesday’s NVL championship.