WESTPORT — There was little chance of the Staples girls soccer team suffering with complacency for today’s FCIAC quarterfinal game against Trumbull. Not after failing to win the title as the top seed the past two years, including a stunning first-round knockout last season.
Playing with both purpose and confidence, the Wreckers scored early and exploded late, riding a four-goal performance by junior Charlotte Barnes to a 5-2 win.
“The girls handled it really well,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “They were excited for the game today. They wanted to get rid of that monkey on their back. It was a good performance today. I’ve very proud of them.”
There is a sense of urgency, particularly by the senior class, which has two straight appearances in the Class LL final and a trip to the conference championship two years ago but no titles to show for their efforts.
“I’m still a little nervous just because it has been three years in a row now,” Reese Sutter, the Wreckers’ gifted midfielder, said. “We have to keep our composure and take it one game at a time.”
It was the juniors that accounted for all the scoring. Autumn Smith, with a gusting wind at her back, delivered a rocket from long range high into the net in the 10th minute to get the Wreckers (15-0-2) started.
Autumn’s goal was one of the highest quality,” Beattie said. “She took a nice touch under pressure and just smashed it from distance. Great technique. It’s kind of hard for her because she scores a great goal and then Barnesie takes the limelight after getting four.”
Barnes struck first in the 23rd minute. Stationed in front of the Trumbull goal, she steered in a set piece from Sutter to make the score 2-0.
The outcome did not come without some uneasy moments for the Wreckers. Despite dictating play, they saw their lead cut in half when Ana Carlos hit a pass that put Sophia Lowenberg behind the defense. Lowenberg finished with a low shot in the 56th minute to make it 2-1.
“I think coming into the game we knew they were capable of scoring goals at any moment so that made sure we kept cool and controlled and kept high intensity the entire game, because that’s something we’ve been struggling with,” Sutter said.
Rather than recoil from the pressure, the Wreckers finished strong, with Barnes scoring three goals in seven minutes, twice on balls from Lys Goldman.
On the first, in the 68th minute, Barnes was sprung free. Trumbull goalkeeper Avery Rice, who had made several outstanding saves, was far off of her line and Barnes deftly lifted a shot into the net.
“I just tried to kick it as high as I could because I knew I couldn’t get it to the corners,” Barnes said.
Barnes got her hat trick by pure hustle. Rice made a save on her initial shot, but Barnes chased down the rebound and banged it into an empty net.
“Legend. She makes everyone laugh every day,” Beattie said. “She’s like the class clown half the time and then she goes into a game and she’s deadly serious. She’s done well. I had to take her out in the first half because she was giving away a lot of fouls and I said refocus your game. She came back in the second half and scored three goals of top quality.”
Barnes completed her memorable day with a score from in close.
“She was amazing. I’m so proud of her,” Sutter said. “Her biggest goal is to score as many goals as possible so it was awesome she did that.”
During the teams’ regular season meeting, the Wreckers jumped out to a big lead and saw their lead whittled to a goal before holding on for a 6-3 win.
Asked what she was thinking after Trumbull made it a one-goal game today, Barnes said, “I think the main thing was sticking with it. We just had to stay calm because last time we panicked and they scored a lot more on us.”
Added Sutter, “It was definitely stressful but I think we realized we had more goals to score and we had missed some opportunities the last couple minutes so just putting those away were really important. We figured how to do that with Barnsie.”
Carlos converted a late penalty kick for the eighth-seeded Eagles (9-8).
The semifinals will feature three unbeaten teams. St. Joseph and Ridgefield play in one half of the bracket. The Wreckers will face New Canaan, last year’s runner-up, which has lost just three times.
“The last couple of games we’ve played well,” Beattie said. “We set the tone well early in the games. They made it look like an ordinary day at the office against a really dangerous team.”