Somers will be returning to a familiar place – the Class S state championship game.
The No. 4 Spartans defeated No. 9 Portland 3-1 on Saturday to advance to their fourth ever championship game.
“There are not a lot of kids that are different form last year’s team but I’ve got a couple of assistant coaches that have never been around before,” Somers coach John Pantuosco said. “They’re very excited.”
He said that there are also some players who have played increased roles this year, and that the championship game will be a little different for them this time around.
Somers has 10 seniors and some other players who are returning from last year’s championship team. A return trip to the finals was what they had hoped for.
“A lot of kids are veterans and there’s a lot of pressure on you to do well again,” Pantuosco said. “They’ve had some pressure on themselves for most of the year. It hasn’t been easy. People look at you and say, ‘Oh, you have all these seniors and you won it last year.’ It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had ups and downs, it’s been a battle.”
Donny Whittle set the tone early against Portland (13-7), putting Somers on the board only 2:28 into the game. Whittle would score again in the half to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead at the break.
“Donny is a great player,” Pantuosco said. “Donny would not accept any accolades more than being just a great team player. If I asked him how special he was, he would say, ‘Jake’s the special one or Joey’s the special one.’ I guess that’s what makes him even more special, really. He’s a threat every time he touches the ball.”
Jake Alvaro scored the final Somers goal.
Midway through the second half, Portland got on the board with a goal by Chris Smity, but that’s as close as the Highlanders would get.
Pantuosco credits his defense – Connor O’Grady, Joe Pellegrini, Richard Vanasse, and Nick Elia – for continuously stopping the offensive attack.
Pantuosco said that Pellegrini has been really the most solid defender all year.
“He has a nose for the ball, he can’t be beaten – he’s really fast,” he said. “He’s just so consistent for us.”
Not to be forgotten is goalkeeper Alex Geas.
“He’s an intense kid,” Pantuosco said. “He absolutely loves and has an intense passion for the game of soccer. He’s phenomenal. He loves the big games. It’s Alex Geas’ time of the year – for three years straight. To know that he’s back there behind four really great defenders makes it that much more difficult for the other team to score.”
Somers (16-3) will face No. 12 Litchfield (11-6-2) in the championship game on either Friday or Saturday. Litchfield knocked off No. 2 Valley (17-2) in the semifinals.
“Litchfield is playing very, very well,” Pantuosco said.
Pantuosco is ready for the challenge, thanks to the league his team plays in. The North Central Connecticut Conference has four teams in the championship game. Somers is in Class S, Suffield and Granby are in Class M, and Avon is in Class L.
“In my mind, there’s no conference in the state for Class S and Class M like the NCCC, We are just so ready,” he said. “You go through that schedule and get to the states, you’ve seen it all. And whatever they throw at you in the states, you’re pretty much ready for.”
In their championship game appearances, the Spartans are 3-0. They defeated Northwest Catholic in 2004, tied Old Lyme in 2008, and defeated Valley Regional in 2010.
Pantuosco hopes his team can continue the perfect championship record. He won a championship in high school in college and a couple in college so he knows how special they are.
“Winning a state championship is something you’ll remember forever,” Pantuosco said. “I can remember them like they were a few days ago. It doesn’t get old. Everybody else is ecstatic and helping to get them there is special.”