WILTON — An FCIAC girls soccer tournament that began five days ago with great uncertainty somewhat surprisingly has stayed to form, with the higher seed winning all six matches after tonight’s semifinals.
No. 1 Staples began the evening at Wilton High School with a 1-0 win over two-time defending champion Ridgefield in a defensive minded contest.
St. Joseph, the second seed, then made it back to the title game for the fourth time in five years with a 5-1 win over Fairfield Warde.
“Obviously they are a little bit shorthanded and we understand that, but our mentality is we don’t care who we play,” said Cadets coach Jack Nogueira of the third-seeded Mustangs, who were without four starters, including star midfielder Lauren Tangney, who suffered a strained MCL in a quarterfinal win over Trumbull. “Go out there and do what we have to do and a chance to be in the finals, something I’m really proud of. It means a lot to me, it means a lot to the school, it means a lot to our soccer program and our players to be so consistent.”
Staples (14-3-1), which had the most wins during a regular season in which the top five seeds were separated by just one point, will get the chance to win its first championship since a share with Warde in 2014. The Cadets’ last title was a year earlier.
The Wreckers advanced by converting one of the few scoring chances in the game. It came off the foot of Ashley Wright in the 32nd minute. Wright one-touched a ball off a nice delivery from Arianna Gerig.
“We had really great possessions going up to the goal, and when I saw (Gerig) going up the line with the ball I knew I had to get in the box, and it was a great ball in open space and I was able to finish it,” Wright said.
It was Wright’s 12th goal of the year and ended a well constructed attack.
“The whole goal was of the highest quality,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “It started with our goalkeeper playing a short pass, we had four passes across our back and then our striker squared it and it was a good finish by Ash. I keep telling them in the box you have to finish.”
Staples had a slight edge in possession early with steady midfield play, but there were few quality chances. The Tigers’ best attempts came late in the first half. Emma Jacobson was high with a redirected ball and Caitlin Slaminko’s set piece ended up in the arms of Staples goalkeeper Anna Sivinski.
No. 4 Ridgefield (12-3-3) defeated the Cadets in the last two finals but returned just four starters this year.
“Ridgefield is a difficult opponent. They are really well coached and their two center backs are up there with the best in the league, never mind the whole state,” said Beattie, referring to Kathryn Barlow and Claire Middlebrook. “They high-pressed us and it was important for us to play our normal way. We try to possess and find those nice through balls. I was really pleased.”
It took just nine minutes for St. Joseph and Warde to surpass the scoring in the earlier game. Nina Pizzicarola struck first for the Cadets (13-1-4) in the 7th minute, but Amanda Motkin got behind the defense and quickly equalized for the Mustangs (12-2-3).
In the prettiest — and most critical — score of the match in terms of momentum, Jessica Mazo headed in a corner kick from Alexis Mason in the 22nd minute for a 2-1 lead.
“She has the knack for doing the right things, making the right pass or scoring the goal at the right opportunities all year long,” Nogueira said of Mazo. “Once we got that one we got a little more comfortable and playing a bit more.”
Mazo scored 40 seconds into the second half, and then Tory Bike came up from her defensive position and finished following a scramble on a corner kick for a 4-1 advantage. Maddie Fried, who had a goal and an assist, closed out the scoring.
“We played well today,” Nogueira said. “Things clicked a little bit for us. I think the big field helped us a lot. It gave us more space to play the feet. It gave us more time for players to make better passes, to combine with each other. Maddie up top was fantastic and Jess is Jess. And she put her stamp on the game.”
Mazo, a team captain as a junior, said she was anxious to return to the final and get a better outcome.
“We wanted to make sure we directed this game. We held the game, set the tone, so getting that goal was big for us,” Mazo said of her go-ahead score. “I try to do what I can for my team.”
Warde coach Tom Cunningham made no excuses for playing shorthanded.
“It’s not about who we were missing, it was about the girls who were out on that field tonight and they played with heart,” Cunningham said. “They played with great intensity and I was proud of the girls who were out there tonight.”
Beattie was satisfied by continuing to navigate a demanding obstacle course and earning the chance to play on the final night of the league season.
“We’re very happy,” Beattie said. “We are going to play against another great team. The league was as close as it was for a reason. There are five or six really good teams. We worked hard to get the No. 1 seed and hopefully we can finish it off.”