GREENWICH — When Greenwich was awarded a penalty kick in the 74th minute of Friday’s FCIAC quarterfinal match with Staples and the score tied, 1-1, the player Cardinals Coach Kurt Putnam preferred to take the chance had just come to the sideline with an injury.
We won’t know who Putnam’s second selection was: before he could make a decision, Kai Lammers had already taken the ball and started making the necessary mental preparations.
It didn’t matter that Lammers is only a sophomore.
“If someone wants to take the ball I am going to let them,” Putnam said.
Lammers beat Ry Cohen with a shot that was the difference in the Cardinals’ 2-1 win that had enough storylines to fill a four-act play, including the reason Cohen was in net.
“I saw we had a penalty, I’m not sure how it happened and I said, I’m a sophomore, our best player is injured and I decided to pick up the ball,” Lammers said. “Obviously I was nervous. I knew what I had to do. It’s time to step up, it’s the playoffs. It’s all the nervousness kicking in, all the adrenaline kicking in. I wasn’t really thinking.”
Greenwich, the top seed, improved to 14-0-3 and will face Fairfield Warde in one of Tuesday’s semifinals. Trumbull and Danbury will meet in the other game.
The events leading up to Lammers’ heroics overshadowed what was a highly entertaining game of missed chances and spectacular goalkeeping, and will add to the lore of what has become a great rivalry.
Most discussed — or in the case of Staples coach Dan Woog, what was left unsaid — were two calls seconds apart that affected the outcome. First was a collision between Wreckers goalkeeper Ziggy Hallgarten, who had played a terrific game and in this case strayed far from his net, and Greenwich star Alejandro MacLean.
Contact was inadvertent but Hallgarten was assessed a yellow card and had to come out of the game, replaced by Cohen. MacLean injured his leg on the play and also departed.
Right after the restart, a Greenwich player went down just inside the box and the penalty kick was called. MacLean was on the bench. Hallgarten was not yet allowed to reenter.
Woog, after he tried to console weeping players strewn across the field like wind-blown leaves, would only say, “I’ve never seen a game like that.”
Woog was fearful of saying more, though he did add of the Wreckers’ effort, “I love it. We did everything we wanted to do. We did everything right. I’m intensely proud of our guys.”
Even Putnam said the infraction was not clear-cut.
“The manner in which they ended up losing the game is a bit dubious to be honest,” Putnam said. “The referees are going to have angles that we don’t have.”
Unfortunately cast into the background was an outstanding effort by both sides. Putnam said the Wreckers (7-4-6), the best eighth seed in the tournament in recent memory, if not ever, was the one opponent he hoped to avoid. The teams had played to a scoreless draw during the regular season.
Staples then went out Friday and demonstrated the reasons for Putnam’s fears.
Hallgarten and the Cardinals’ Jimmy Johnson were terrific in net. Hallgarten robbed Sebastian Hernandez, set up beautifully by MacLean, in the 5th minute. Next up was Johnson, leaving his line to stop Spencer Daniels.
In a memorable sequence in the 25th minute, after Hallgarten stopped a point-blank attempt by MacLean, it appeared Hernandez had an untended net as a target to place the rebound. But the Wreckers’ Josh Berman was guarding the line and able to clear the chance.
Greenwich’s Shoki Araki finally broke the tie in the 26th minute, with a shot in the small opening between Hallgarten and the right post.
“The chances we had in the first half, the game should have been over,” Putnam said. “The chances that we created, they weren’t hard chances, I would say there were four really good chances.”
Staples pressed the attack for the final 20 minutes. Johnson stopped a hard shot by Berman and then the uncontested rebound by Spencer Daniels.
Thomas Nealon finally equalized in the 72nd minute, setting up a rousing celebration in front of the Staples bench.
Nothing foreshadowed what would soon follow.
Even after all of that, the Wreckers would not go away. On a scramble following a set piece, Teddy Lawrence headed the ball off the post in the 79th minute. Lawrence stayed face-down on the ground for several seconds.
Soon, his teammates would find themselves in the same position.
“When we’ve play them before they are always battles,” Putnam said. “One thing you can’t fault them is they come prepared and they come to leave it all out on the field and they did today. Somebody had to lose.
“Resiliency is what we have,” Putnam added. “You can see why Staples only lost three games. They’re very well organized and they get so many guys back in behind the ball. Unless you hit them real hard, which is what we did in the first half. They could go a long way in the state tournament if they can find the net. Teams are going to find it hard to break them down.”