DiGangi, Essex solve Colchester for D-I boys soccer quarterfinal win

ESSEX – A breakaway from midfield didn’t have the proper finishing touch. A scramble inside the box after a free kick required a diving stop on the left post. And an enticing through-ball forced a brilliant, point-blank chest save.

Essex poured everything it had at Domenick Puttlitz in the opening 40 minutes, yet failed to get one past the Colchester goalie.

The start of the second half saw more of the same: On a third straight Essex corner kick Stefan DiGangi redirected a header that Puttlitz ripped out of the air and off his line.

DiGangi’s hands-on-his-head reaction told the story. His coach, Jake Orr, verbalized it afterward.

“We started thinking, ‘Man, we need to get one or else this is going to get hairy,'” Orr said. “We were getting concerned.”

But the player who has scored in every game wouldn’t be shut out for the full 80 minutes.

DiGangi raced onto Eli Bostwick’s well-placed pass behind the defense and coolly slid in a left-footed shot, sending No. 3 Essex to a tense 1-0 victory over No. 6 Colchester in a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal on Friday afternoon.

Essex's Stefan DiGangi reacts to scoring a goal against Colchester during a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal in Essex on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

“When he gets the ball with a little bit of space in front of him, I don’t know if there is anybody more dangerous in the state,” Orr said of his senior standout. “He didn’t make a mistake with that one.”

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And DiGangi’s strike, with 19:33 to play, arrived just in time for the Hornets.

“As the game kept going on, I could feel the intensity, it was getting rowdier and rowdier,” DiGangi said. “I think everyone was feeling a sense of urgency.”

Colchester goalie Domenick Puttlitz leaps to punch a corner kick away from danger during a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal in Essex on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

Orr: ” You are getting that feeling that we are playing well and carrying the play, but if we don’t get one soon and they get a counter … it could be one of those days.”

On the build-up to DiGangi’s goal, Tyler Santaniello advanced the ball from the sideline and pushed to the middle for Bostwick. The senior midfielder evaded one Colchester defender, opened up and delivered a through-ball to DiGangi, one of three Hornets making diagonal runs.

DiGangi waited for Puttlitz (12 saves) to commit before finding space to slip a shot past the Lakers’ sturdy netminder.

“I got a lucky break-through,” DiGangi said.

Trailing 1-0, the Lakers continued their short-passing game, which was effective at times, but couldn’t unlock leading scorer Adolphe Alfani up top.

“It’s no secret that Adolphe’s our goal scorer and they played him well and we couldn’t get much generated off of him,” Colchester coach Ty Pratt said.

Colchester goalie Domenick Puttlitz, bottom, steals the ball from the feet of Essex's Patrick Herrin, left, on a breakaway during a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal in Essex on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

To compound their chances for a late equalizer, two players picked up their second yellow cards in the span of two minutes shortly after DiGangi’s goal.

“We didn’t give up when we had nine guys on the field,” Pratt said. “Overall, Essex is a very good team and we hung with them regardless of the outcome. I told the guys that we are still one of the best teams in the state.”

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The Lakers nearly found the tying goal in the final 2 minutes because of an Essex mistake. After the Hornets tried to play back to goalie Andrew Seavers (four saves), Alfani forced a turnover and drove a high cross into a dangerous spot. Henry Bacon briefly had possession atop the box, but Essex held firm without yielding a shot on target.

Colchester's Caden Sultzbaugh, right, touches past Essex's John Sinchuari during a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal in Essex on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

“Whether you are playing against a full 11, 10 or 9 — whatever – closing out a playoff game is never easy,” Orr said.  “The red cards made it much easier for us. We were happy to hear the final buzzer go.”

The Hornets (8-1), who lost on this field at this stage in 2019, will take on rival and No. 2 Champlain Valley in Tuesday’s semifinals in Hinesburg. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.

“Last year was heartbreaking, so we are super-excited. We are ready,” DiGangi said.

Essex's Stefan DiGangi (16) celebrates his goal with teammates during a Division I high school boys soccer quarterfinal in Essex on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.

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Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.