The 1994 Windsor Locks High School Boys’ Soccer Team, continuing the long tradition of NCCC soccer dominance in state tournament play, gave longtime coach Dan Sullivan his sixth, and final, state championship with a combination of skill, heart, hustle and emotion– all trademarks of the legendary coach. Led by co-captains Sean Claffey and Jason Cutler, the team finished with a 10-4-2 regular season record in the powerful NCCC conference against some of the best teams in the state. As Coach Sullivan always used to say, “Just get me those 8 wins to get in the tourney and watch out for my team.” He knew how tough each and every opponent was in this strong conference, and this could only help his teams succeed as long as they could make it to the postseason.
The Raiders qualified for the state tournament as the 10th seed, and on a 4 game winning streak, with the help of strong senior-led team play, with 8 of 11 starters being seniors. Led by one of the most balanced scoring front lines in the state, we had All-NCCC players Claffey and Cutler on the wings and strong forward play from Allan Wilcox and Matt Collins. The midfield play was led by center halfback Kofi Remy, with wing halfbacks Eric Barthel and Mike Pitkin completing the strong midfield attack. The suffocating defense, anchored in the back by goalkeeper Eric Descrocher, center fullback Brandon Smith, left fullback John Thorne, and Class S tournament MVP, right fullback, Brian Maltese, only allowed 5 goals in its four game march to the state title. Locks also had a host of quality players come off the bench to provide support at various times throughout the season, including seniors Todd Albano, Cully Jackson and Jeremiah Hawks; juniors Michael Szwed, Don O’Brien, Brian Bednarz, Michael Wrabel, and Kevin Mattia; and sophomores Dan Pequita, Andrew Pisati, and Frank Toce. Coach Sullivan was joined on the sidelines by longtime friend and assistant coach, Don Pisati, who is also a fellow 2016 inductee into the WL Hall of Fame.
In the opening round, Windsor Locks traveled to Thompson, CT to play 7th ranked Marinapolis Prep, who on paper was supposed to be a highly skilled team. Locks dominated the first half of the game, holding Prep to no first half shots and should have easily been up 3 to 4 goals by halftime, but they only managed to score on Claffey’s first goal of the postseason. Prep tied up the game with about 14 minutes to go in the second half and the teams would then head to sudden death overtime. Locks dominated the first overtime session, but could not score until the second overtime session, when Collin’s blast from 10 yds out was deflected by the goalie, and Claffey then hammered the deflection into the open net for the game winner and was soon mobbed by teammates and fans. Locks outshot Prep 30-8, but this game played so much closer and as Coach Sullivan was quoted as saying, “it would have been a shame to lose to this dangerous team in penalty kicks.” Luckily Locks was able to put them away before it ever got to that point.
The Raiders easily beat 2nd ranked Terryville 4-2 in the second round game, just as the 1990 state championship team had done 4 years earlier. Many of the players from this 1994 team were spectators at all of the games of the 1990 team’s magical run, with Claffey, Cutler, Maltese, and Barthel all having older brothers who were members of that 1990 winning team. So they learned firsthand what it took to play and to win in the postseason. Two first half goals from Cutler allowed the game to be tied at halftime. Locks scored early in the second half on Claffey’s third goal of the tourney and shortly after, Collins added the final goal to finish off the 2nd ranked team in Class S.
The semi-final matchup against 3rd ranked Cromwell was arguably the most exciting game of the tournament, with Locks winning a closely played game, 2-1. While it did not show on the scoreboard, Cromwell dominated the scoreless first half and Locks was outshot 19-10 for the whole game. Locks had a secret weapon, though, in the form of the long throw-in. Both Claffey and Cutler had the amazing talent of making long throw-ins from the sidelines, which basically were like having a free kick every time it went out of bounds in the offensive end. Coach would yell out “Use It,” and many of the goals scored during the whole season came off of these throw-ins from the dynamic duo. In this game it was Claffey who unleashed this weapon on Cromwell. In a two minute span early on in the second half, Locks scored two amazing goals off of the long throw-ins from Claffey. The first goal came about 9 minutes into the second half and tied the game up, since Cromwell had scored a minute earlier. Collins was the recipient of the first throw-in and was able to touch the ball past the keeper for Cromwell. A little over 2 minutes later, Claffey hooked up with a speedy John Thorne, who made a long run from his fullback position to knock in which turned out to be the game winning goal. Locks then had to survive a long, nerve wracking 29 minutes, which seemed to take forever since Cromwell had turned up the pressure on offense. But Locks goalie Descrocher lead and aggressive defense that kept Cromwell out of the goal. The thrilling 2-1 victory gave Locks a shot at its sixth state title.
The championship game featured the talented and aggressive Raiders against 1st ranked Old Saybrook, a well-skilled and coached team. This meant that Locks would end up knocking off the 2nd, 3rd, and 1st ranked teams consecutively on their way to the championship, an amazing feat in its own right. Two early goals by Collins provided the early cushion room for Locks. Both goals again came off long throw-ins, with the first coming from Cutler on the left sideline and the second goal coming shortly after from one of Claffey’s long and accurate throw-ins on the right sideline. Both throwers would use Wilcox as their target, because of his height, as they did so many times during the regular season for the majority of their goals. Both times Wilcox flicked it to Collins, and he put them both away. Uncharacteristically, Locks stopped with the pressuring offense and were not the same team they had been all season long, which is how they got to where they were at this point. So Coach Sullivan was not happy at halftime, and he let his team know that the only way Coach knew how to– with a spirited halftime speech. Locks came out more aggressively in the second half, but did not need another goal because the stellar defense lead by Maltese, Smith and Thorne, who were so good all season long in covering for one another, helped goalkeeper Desrocher from allowing Old Saybrook to tie the game up and this sewed up the victory and brought home the sixth state championship for Coach Sullivan and the Raiders!!
The Raiders finished with 49 goals on the season. Wilcox led the team with 13 goals, followed by Cutler (11), Claffey (10), and Collins (9). Brian Maltese was voted tournament MVP for his stifling defense, and Claffey would also be selected to the All-State team for his stellar play throughout the entire season, which included that “secret” weapon that wasn’t much of a secret after they marched through the tourney.
Throughout the entire tournament and the last several games of the regular season, the team played with a heavy heart because of the passing of longtime assistant coach Bob Murray, who is also a fellow member of the WL Hall of Fame for his contributions in coaching youth baseball for so many years in Windsor Locks Little League. Bob passed away unexpectedly in late October 1994 and all the players were heartbroken from this huge loss because Bob had been such a key figure in their younger lives, since many had played for Bob in Little League. The players used this emotion to bring themselves closer together as a team, and his passing inspired them to this magical run to the title. They presented the game ball to Bob’s wife, Maddie, after the championship game, which was a very emotional moment for all, and they insured her that Bob had been their “12th Player” on the field for all four of those tournament wins.
The four tournament wins brought their final record to 14-4-2 and brought Coach Sullivan his sixth and final soccer championship in his already legendary career. That season was a magical ride, one that will never be forgotten by the players and fans who cheered them on!!