WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University men's soccer team made an early goal stand up, moving into a share of first place in the Little East Conference with a 2-0 victory over the University of Massachusetts Boston Wednesday afternoon at Thomas Nevers Field.
Junior defender Nick Starkowski (Marlborough) had the first multi-goal match of his career, knocking in a head ball off a serve from junior forward Griffin Luczek (Lee, NH) on the first shot of the match just 2:48 into play, then administered the clinching goal by driving a penalty kick into the upper right-hand corner of the net with 13 minutes remaining.
Eastern (11-2-0, 4-1-0 LEC) improved to 5-1-0 overall at home and remained unbeaten (3-0-1) against UMass Boston (6-8-1, 3-1-1 LEC) in the last four LEC regular-season matches against the Beacons, who dip to 1-6-1 on their opponent's field this year.
With its third straight shutout win (sixth overall), Eastern jumps over UMass in the LEC standings to tie Keene State College for first place, with 12 points. Keene visited the University of Southern Maine in an LEC match tonight beginning at 6 p.m.
Starkowski knocked in the first goal in a crowd in the middle of the box off a serve from the right from Luczek and senior keeper Ryan Murphy (Cromwell) made two of his three first-half saves in the opening minutes of the game to help propel the Warriors into their 1-0 lead. Sophomore keeper Kyle Boutot (Tolland) preserved the shutout without needing a save in the second half.
At right: Freshman defender Kyle Baron (24) battles UMB's Raffi DeSouza in the first half of Wednesday's 2-0 Little East home win over the Beacons. Baron played 47 minutes off the bench as part of Eastern's shutdown defense. (Photo by Sara Pisanelli)
Murphy concludes his career unbeaten (3-0-1) against UMB in four regular-season starts with a a 0.54 goals-against average, 30 saves and a .938 save percentage.
Eastern's defense – led by starters Starkowski, junior Sam Hurlburt (Cornwall) and sophomores David Noel (Armonk, NY) and Brendan D'Arcy (West Hartford) – prevented the Beacons from mounting much offense on the afternoon.
Trailing 1-0, UMass hit the post twice in the first half. The first came six minutes after Starkowski's first goal. After Murphy made consecutive saves on shots by sophomore midfielder Josh Crespo, sophomore midfielder Estevao Gomes rebounded the second one and drilled it off the right post.
Trying to gain the equalizer before halftime, UMass hit the post again with two minutes left on a header by freshman forward Riven Rodrigues set up on a pretty relay from sophomore defender Leo Herrera to senior midfielder Juan Nieto.
Before Starkowski's second goal put the game away, the Warriors threatened when freshman midfielder Jackson Trierweiler (Framingham, MA) – who had just entered the game – was open on the right side but sent a ball over the crossbar 15 minutes into the second half.
Appearing in his sixth game – all off the bench – Kyle Boutot's aggressiveness broke up a UMass threat before it could materialize when he came off his line with a sliding stop of a bid by junior forward Raffi DeSouza midway through the second half.
Starkowski's insurance PK goal followed nine minutes later and was awarded after UMB was whistled for a hand ball in the right corner of the 18-yard box. Starkowski smoothly hammered the ball to the left of junior keeper Omar Castro-Dreher, who had no chance to knock it down. The PK conversion was the second this year for Starkowski, who broke a 1-1 tie late in a 2-1 LEC match at Plymouth State University Sept. 29.
Eastern hosts Castleton University in a conference match Saturday at 1 p.m. at Nevers Field.