Prep kingpins of SCC

Kieran Bracken’s strike late in the first half proved to be the game-winner, as Fairfield Prep defeated Branford, 1-0, in the SCC boys soccer final on Tuesday night at Ken Strong Stadium.
Bracken’s goal with 10:19 left in the first half armed the top-seeded Jesuits with the lead and senior keeper Will Steiner made it stand up, claiming tournament Most Outstanding Players honors, as Prep (16-2-1) repeated as conference champions by stinging the third-seeded Hornets in frigid West Haven.
With the victory, the Jesuits claimed their third SCC title overall, with all of them coming since 2005.
“It was a good team win,” Bracken said. “We just wanted it more than Branford… We wanted to go back-to-back.”
Steiner recorded his second clean sheet of the tournament and allowed just one goal — a late marker in the semifinals against Xavier — in three games.
“After we got up at halftime, we talked and said we can’t change the way we are playing,” Steiner said. “We can’t drop off. We still have to keep going forward.”
Prep kept pressing on over the final 40 minutes, benefiting from a man-advantage when the Hornets’ John Ainsen was sent off with a straight red card with 27 minutes left to play in the game.
But, Branford keeper Jared Keck (eight saves) made several big stops to keep the Hornets in the game— including a slew of saves on Prep’s dynamic forward pairing of juniors Austin Sims and Stephen Tortora.
“We just kept attacking,” Jesuit coach Ryan Lyddy said. “We’re not going to change anything whatsoever, being a man up or a man down, whatever the case is. We just have to go for the back of the net.
“I thought we had some great opportunities. Their keeper played absolutely great.”
Branford (12-3-2) struggled to create quality offensive chances, with Prep defenders Tim Frassetto, Darragh Kelly, Jordan Visosky, Steve DiMurio and Patrick Connolly smothering the Hornet attack.
“Our defense helped me out a lot,” said Steiner, who made two saves. “I don’t think I had too much to do.”
Prep carried the play for the majority of the second half, hemming Branford into its own defensive half.
The Hornets looked for an equalizer with just over a minute left in the game, when sophomore forward Max Condon lashed a left-footed drive from distance that sailed over Steiner’s crossbar and slammed off of the football goal post.
“It was a good foot over, but it got me a little nervous,” Steiner said.
Branford lumped in a desperate cross in the final seconds, but Steiner charged off of his line and punched the ball away to seal the victory.
“I thought we played great for awhile,” Lyddy said. “We were kind of getting a little sloppy in the back which isn’t our style of play.”
Fairfield Prep asserted itself early on, with Sims causing all sorts of problems for the Hornet backline.
Tortora and Bracken came off of the bench to ramp up the attack, as the Jesuits’ physicality began to take a toll on Branford.
“I think we took them out of the game mentally and physically,” Lyddy said. “I think that showed. They started to break down a little bit and that’s where the frustration came.”
Bracken, who knocked the ball past a marooned Keck off of a mishit clearance, provided Prep with the only goal it needed to defend its title.
“He’s been working hard,” Lyddy said of the senior. “He hasn’t really had too much playing time. But it’s just another testament to show the soccer world how deep our bench is.”
Said Bracken:
“Good teams find a way to win in tough conditions.”
Prep defeated Notre Dame of West Haven by an identical 1-0 scoreline in last year’s SCC championship game, and advanced to the Class LL state quarterfinals before dropping a 1-0 decision to eventual champions Pomperaug High of Southbury.
The Jesuits will be looking to march on even deeper into the state tournament this time around.
“In state tournament time, we need to find a way to win,” Lyddy said. “We did it the other night and you saw it again today.”
Prep is seeded third in the Class LL state tournament and will host No. 30 seed Fairfield Ludlowe (6-8-2) today at 2 p.m. Branford earned the ninth seed in Class L and will tangle with No. 24 East Lyme (6-8-2).

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