MANSFIELD, Conn. – The top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University men's soccer team scored three times in a ten-minute span late in the first half -- including twice in the final three minutes -- and went on to its most convincing Little East Conference playoff win, 5-0, over fourth-seeded and two-time defending playoff champion Western Connecticut State University Friday night at Rick McCarthy Field.
Now 10-0-0 at home, Eastern (17-2-0) moves into its sixth final – where it is 5-0 under 13th-year head coach Greg DeVito – Sunday at noon at home against second-seeded Keene State College (14-6-0). The Owls eliminated third-seeded Rhode Island College, 1-0, Friday evening at Keene, NH by scoring the only goal ten minutes into the second half.
The victory ties the record for most in a season over the 60-year history of the program, matching the 2012 team (17-2-1) which captured its fourth of five LEC playoff titles under DeVito that year.
In playoff title games, Eastern has defeated Keene on penalty kicks for its first championship in 2007 and also won over Keene at home in the 2011 title game, 1-0. Eastern and Keene have combined to win 11 of 20 championships. The Owls, who lost to Western Connecticut in last year's championship game on Eastern's field after eliminating the Warriors a day earlier, are appearing in the title match for the 12th time, having won six. Keene last won the title in 2010 over Rhode Island College before the Warriors copped three straight.
Ranked No. 7 in New England, Eastern shut out Keene, 4-0, at home in the regular-season Oct. 12. Since absorbing its worst loss of the year against Eastern in a match where the Warriors broke quickly 65 seconds into the match, Keene has captured six of seven -- four of them shutouts.
Eastern brought a six-game winning streak into play and Western a six-game unbeaten streak (3-0-3) into Friday's semifinals, where it had allowed only three goals in that stretch, and was 7-2-1 away from home in 2019.
After being outshot 30-4 in a 1-0 win at Western Connecticut on October 16, Eastern dominated from the outset Friday. Seven different players contributed to the team's scoring, with senior forward Griffin Luczek (Lee, NH) giving Eastern the lead in the 20th minute, and later capping the onslaught by finishing off junior forward Danny Shayler's (Avon) endline feed with 50.1 second left to give the Warriors their largest winning margin ever in LEC playoff competition. Previously, Eastern's largest margin of victory in the LEC playoffs had come in a 4-0 shutout of UMass Dartmouth at home in the 2011 tournament semifinals.
In between Luczek's goals, freshman forward Ryan Sirois (Tolland), sophomore midfielder Will Toomey (Willington) and LEC sophomore scoring leader Patrick Agyemang (East Hartford) found the back of the net. Agyemang converted a penalty kick after being taken down in the box two minutes before halftime to give Eastern a 4-0 lead at the break. The goal was the 21st for Agyemang,who has team-high 49 points this year and shares second place on the team with seven assists -- one behind co-leaders Andrés Mayuri (West Hartford), a freshman, and senior Justin Jensen (Wethersfield), both midfielders.
Luczek's fifth goal of the year in the 20th minute that made it 1-0 was set up by a free kick from Mayuri. Mayuri sent the kick from the left side through the box toward Agyemang, who let it pass by to the right post to a charging Griffin, who converted a sliding shot from close range past the Western keeper. Sirois ripped his blast that made it 2-0 in the 33rd minute from the right side above the reach of junior keeper Daniel Szabo. The play originated on a throw-in into the box, where Mayuri collected a loose ball off a Western clearing attempt and fired a shot hard into the Western defense. The carom squirted to an unmarked Sirois, who hammered his shot from a difficult angle on the right side inside the near post.
Sensing the kill, Eastern made the second half all but academic with two more goals in a span of less than three minutes that put the lead at 4-0 at the break. Junior keeper Kyle Boutot (Tolland) set up the third goal in the 41st minute with a free kickk outside the box that carried well over midfield, where it bounced off the head of Western's Matheus Nascimento. Toomey swooped in along the near sideline to gain control and raced from near midfield before cutting inside the box, where he split the final two defenders and pushed the ball with his right foot behind the final Western player and inside the right post. Minutes later, Agyemang was awarded the penalty kick, which he cleanly sent inside the right post.
Making his first career playoff start, Boutot made four saves, matching Szabo. Boutot had a relatively easy evening, thanks to a defense that limited Western to only ten shots – only four of them on goal.
The shutout was Eastern's 11th of the year – fourth in the last six games. At McCarthy field this year in its ten wins, Eastern has outscored its opponent, 42-2, and has outshot them by nearly 3-to-1. In ten home starts, Boutot has a 0.22 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. He has four full shutouts and has shared four at McCarthy Field.
Each team had an opportunity to score first with free kicks in the first five minutes, but Western's junior midfielder Matthew Restrepo hammered his shot from the edge of the box into the wall, and Eastern senior midfielder Jackson Toomey (Willington) sent a drive over the top of the net off a free kick by Mayuri.
Minutes before Luczek's opening goal, Agyemang threated twice, with his bullet through the Western defense directed right at Szabo, and Szabo following with his best save in a 1v1 situation with Agyemang from close range.
Eastern is ranked 11th in the most recent NCAA New England Regional Poll released prior to the start of the LEC playoffs, while Keene is 12th.