PLYMOUTH, N.H. .—Due to a quirk in the schedule, the Eastern Connecticut State University men's soccer team was required to make the 200-mile one-way trip to Plymouth State University for a Little East Conference match for the second year in a row Saturday.
It may have been the best thing that could have happened.
With last year's 4-1 loss at Plymouth – the largest goal deficit to Plymouth in 20 years -- still fresh in its mind, Eastern (8-1-0, 3-1-0 LEC) returned to Arold Field and won its fourth straight game, 2-1, on the strength of a 70th-minute tie-breaking penalty kick from junior defender Nick Starkowski (Marlborough) which spoiled Homecoming at Plymouth.
The victory avenges Eastern's only loss to Plymouth (2-4-2, 0-2-1 LEC) in the last 13 meetings, the Warriors improving to 10-1-2 in the series under 12th-year head coach Greg DeVito. The Warriors now have collected nine of a possible 12 points in conference matches, one more than a year ago when Eastern dipped to 2-3-2 in seven LEC matches and failed to make the LEC playoffs for the first time under the current head coach.
Eastern shares first place in points in the conference with Keene State College, which has a game in hand. The Owls trimmed the Warriors, 1-0, two weeks ago at Keene, NH.
The game's first two goals came 13 minutes apart – freshman Zack Kindall (Ellington) giving the Warriors a 1-0 halftime lead with his first career goal three minutes before the break on the first career assist from sophomore Jake Szymko (Upton, MA) – and the hosts tying the match ten minutes into the second half on a goal by sophomore Erik Armstrong following a throw-in.
A foul inside the box precipitated the penalty-kick goal by Starkowski, who recorded his first goal of the season, third of his career.
Fifteen minutes before Kindall cashed in Szymko's cross, Eastern had a chance to take the lead in the 16th minute. After the Panthers were called for a handball inside the box, junior Justin Jensen (Wethersfield) pushed his penalty kick low to the right post, but sophomore goalkeeper Linus Lindeberg fully extended to his left to deny the chance.
On Plymouth's tying goal, freshman Alyosha Westbrook launched a throw-in toward the near post,where senior Melker Blomberg headed it to the middle. Armskog crashed toward the goal, flicking the ball past Eastern senior keeper Ryan Murphy (Cromwell).
Eastern was outshot, 12-7, but forced Lindeberg into four saves, while Murphy needed just one to
register his 35th career win. The three-time All-LEC keeper moved into a tie for second all-time with
Phil Stevens (1993-96) with his 63rd career start. Carl Appel (2008-11) is the all-time leader in that
category, with 81.
With the victory, Eastern is off to its best start after nine matches since the 2012 squad won its first
ten and went unbeaten (14-0-1) in its first 15 on the way to its second of three straight LEC playoff
titles and a program record 17 wins (17-2-1).
Eastern hosts Connecticut College Tuesday at 4 p.m. in a non-conference match at Thomas Nevers