WATERTOWN — Evan Richardson and his Watertown boys soccer teammates continue to live on the edge lately and, as long as they keep winning, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Richardson made eight saves and Riley Connell scored early in the first half for the game’s only goal as the fourth-seeded Cyclones blanked fifth-seeded Central Square on Thursday night, 1-0, in a physical Section 3 Class A quarterfinal on Watertown’s turf field.
“It’s huge,” said Richardson, a junior goalkeeper. “I think the home game really had a huge impact for us, having the student section here, having our own fans, I think that did really help us.”
Connell scored in the seventh minute, with Ethan Uliano assisting, and then Richardson and Watertown’s defense made the goal stand up.
“Definitely, I feel like it relaxes us when we get up by at least one (goal),” Connell said.
The Cyclones (14-2-1) advance to Tuesday’s semifinals at Liverpool High School to face either No. 1 Fowler or No. 8 New Hartford at a time to be determined.
“Central Square came out really strong in the beginning and our defense really held up,” Watertown coach Todd Heckman said. “And we had the one set-piece (play) for a goal right away, and we were good enough defensively to hold on.”
Connell provided Watertown with the only goal, converting on a corner kick from Uliano only six minutes and 45 seconds into the game.
“I just hit it in the danger zone and there was like six players down, and Riley just got his head on it,” said Uliano, a senior midfielder. “It was a nice goal.”
From the left corner, Uliano sent the ball almost directly to Connell, who among several Central Square players, headed the ball into the net.
“I just went far post, because a lot of times that’s where the ball goes,” said Connell, a junior midfielder, said. “I watched the flight of the ball and just put it in. It was really a great ball by Ethan.”
Richardson, also a lacrosse goalie, was also motivated by the Cyclones’ opening-round sectional loss to East Syracuse-Minoa in that sport on their home field in May.
“We had adversity early and we didn’t handle it well,” Richardson said of the lacrosse game. “This feels good.”
Watertown recorded its seventh shutout of the season, including three in a row.
“A shout out to our defense, we played insane,” Richardson said. “The guys played so well, I can’t ask for anything else. They were flying around out there, but they were all ready to go.”
Anchored defensively by Ben Rathbun, Hayden Augliano and Simon Stratton, the Cyclones have now shut out five of their past six opponents. Heckman also credited Cody Benham and Colton Walker with their help defensively.
“It was a nerve-wracking game, but it was good,” Rathbun said. “I’m pleased with the boys and how we played and you can’t ask much more than us giving it our all every night.”
“We did a good job of countering them,” Heckman said. “Normally we’re a possession-based team, but tonight we had to counter and we did it effectively.”
Richardson denied a Central Square attempt on a corner kick in the final minutes of the game and capped his night by hauling in a header in close with 3:40 left.
The second half was also chippy at times as several scrums broke out.
“They were saying some stuff, but we held our cool and we just played through it,” Uliano said.
Kody Haywood finished with five saves for Central Square (10-6-1).
“They’re a very good team defensively,” Connell said of Central Square. “And especially keeping that 1-0 lead the entire game, that just shows how strong our defense is and how much we can win the ball.”
Watertown continued its postseason success after blanking Immaculate Heart Central and Carthage to claim the Frontier League’s “A” Division title after winning the division in the regular season.
The Cyclones move on to play in the sectional semifinals for the second time in three seasons. After Watertown won the Section 3 Class A title and advanced to the state regionals in 2017, it lost to Fowler, 2-0, in a Class A quarterfinal in 2018.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Heckman said. “It was a great team victory for us and we’re ready for the semifinals.”