WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Freshman forward Patrick Agyemang (East Hartford) scored on a 12-yard volley late in the first half and goalkeepers Ryan Murphy (Cromwell) and Kyle Boutot (Tolland) combined for the team's fourth straight shutout win as the Eastern Connecticut State University men's soccer team held tight to second place in the Little East Conference with a 1-0 victory over Castleton University Saturday afternoon at Thomas Nevers Field.
A winner of four straight and eight of nine, Eastern (12-2-0, 5-0-1 LEC) remains three points behind undefeated Keene State College (6-0-0 LEC), which made an early goal stand up in Saturday's 1-0 LEC win against visiting Western Connecticut. The Warriors have won five straight LEC games since opening the conference season with a 1-0 loss at Keene State a month ago. They are 6-1-0 at home.
Agyemang recorded his fourth game-winning goal of the year, beating Castleton (6-6-1, 2-3-1 LEC) sophomore goalie Alex Fernald (Phippsburg, ME) from the middle of the box with his eighth goal of the year – the most goals by a freshman since Stephen Chirgwin led the Warriors with 14 as a third-team All-Region player in 1993.
Agyemang threatened several times in collecting five of his team's 13 shots, converting the only one of the match 12 minutes before the half. After Castleton's defense cleared a crossing pass in the box out to midfield, Eastern junior defender Nick Starkowski (Marlborough) kept it in by one-timing a pass ahead on the left wing to junior defender Sam Hurlburt (Cornwall). Hurlburt took two touches and served the ball into the box. A Castleton defender leaped to win the head ball over Agyemang, but the ball fell right to Agyemang's foot. Agyemang turned, and before the ball hit the ground, Agyemang volleyed it with his right foot past a charging Fernald from the middle of the box into the left-hand corner of the net.
Eastern's defense stretched its scoreless streak to 370 minutes and 54 seconds with its fourth straight shutout. The Warriors have not allowed a goal since the 80th minute in a 2-0 non-conference loss to visiting Connecticut College 11 days ago. In that scoreless streak, Murphy and Boutot have combined in net in the last four full shutouts. Murphy has started all four, making 16 saves and Boutot has come off the bench in the second half of each to make five saves and gain credit for one victory.
Saturday, both teams could have produced multiple goals, especially in the second half when each had several near-misses. Agyemang for Eastern and freshman midfielder Rida Kori and junior midfielder Jack Kingdon of Castleton were their respective team's biggest threats, with Murphy and Boutot forced to come up with several big saves to keep the shutout intact.
Boutot's best save came on a bullet shot through traffic by freshman midfielder Diatourou Drame with 14 minutes left, which had the keeper reacting quickly and extending fully to his right to knock the ball away. Twelve minutes earlier, Kingdon set up Drame with a pin-point cross, but Drame's perfectly-timed header on the free kick sailed inches wide of the right post.
Three minutes into the second half, the Warriors threatened to double their lead on a cross from sophomore defender David Noel (Armonk, NY) from the right side, but Fernald was equal to Agyemang's one-timer from in close. In the first ten minutes of a scoreless game, Agyemang took a feed from freshman midfielder Will Toomey (Willington) but his drive ripped off the crossbar and was cleared by the Castleton defense.
Murphy made five saves for his tenth win of the year and Boutot four. Fernald finished with three. The Spartans held a slim 14-13 edge in shots but Eastern dominated with a 10-3 advantage in corner kicks.
The match was the first between the programs in conference play, the Spartans joining the LEC this fall, and only the second one between the programs since 1984. Eastern holds a 5-0 advantage in the series, which began in the 1968 and 1969 NAIA regional tournaments.
Eastern visits Babson College Wednesday in a non-conference match at 7 p.m.