RIDGEFIELD — Almost everyone at Tiger Hollow seemed certain today’s Class LL quarterfinal game between Ridgefield and Norwalk was headed to penalty kicks.
Everyone except the Bears’ Will Gaviria and Michael Hidalgo.
With time running out at the end of the second overtime and the score tied at 1-1, Gaviria sent a ball down the right side and Hidalgo, in anticipation, was in full stride. Hidalgo ran onto it and deposited a shot into the far corner as time expired to give the Bears a 2-1 victory that left them the lone remaining FCIAC boys soccer team still alive in the state tournament.
“I didn’t even know how to celebrate,” Hidalgo said afterward, still overcome both by his emotions and the apparent surreality of his dramatics. “I just burst into tears.”
The 20th-seeded Bears (13-6-2) will face the winner of tomorrow’s match between Naugatuck and Wilbur Cross in the semifinals at a neutral site.
The Bears have regrouped since a loss to Greenwich in the semifinal round of the FCIAC Tournament. They were mindful of how the Tigers had spoiled their senior night celebration with a 1-0 victory.
“The Greenwich game was actually our wakeup call,” Hidalgo said. “We expected to win. Our mentality is expect to win.”
Still, Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said he anticipated today’s outcome to be determined by the uncertainty of penalty kicks even as the decisive play was unwinding.
“I thought once the ball got cleared out of our 18 the clock was going to expire,” Laughton said. “I’m glad Will and Mike thought differently. Mike has been playing his best soccer during the postseason so I was not surprised he was on the end of that one. We always talk about playing to the final buzzer and they certainly did that today.”
It was a cruel finish for the fifth-seeded Tigers (14-5-1), who won the FCIAC regular season title but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Danbury. Today they played their third straight league opponent in the state tournament after wins over Bridgeport Central and Staples.
“All in all they might have deserved the win. They had more possession than we did,” Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen said. “It is a tough feeling you have at the end of a season. Only one team can with a championship. I’m just sad that it’s not us.”
The match was fairly even, though the Bears did control the ball for a greater period of time. Ridgefield had the best scoring opportunity in the first half, but Norwalk keeper Cole Judkins made a save on a drilled ball by Niels van Beek.
After an exchange of chances early in the second half, even the teams’ goals closely followed one another.
Lucas Araujo gave the Bears a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute. After a shot following a corner kick struck the crossbar, Araujo was able to redirect the ball with a header into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Norwalk had little time to play with an advantage. JT Siano, the dangerous Ridgefield striker who seldom sees the ball in space, got free in the defense and equalized in the 52nd minute.
Scooter Glass, who scored the winning goal in the Tigers’ second round game with Staples, had two chances to finish nice passes from Siano in regulation. The first was threaded between goalkeeper Gianluca Trofa and a defender, but Glass touched it just wide of the short side.
Moments later, Glass was stopped just in front of the goal.
“I thought this was one of our better games,” Laughton said. “JT’s a great player and Ridgefield has a great team and to minimize opportunities for them, that’s huge. We’ll take it.”
Just when it looked like it was going to take more than 100 minutes to determine a winner, Hidalgo stepped into the spotlight.
“I’m the type of player to always make those type of runs because I’m quick and I saw (Gaviria) get the ball and I said I had to make this run,” Hidalgo said. “It was a good ball, I stayed onside and I finished. I saw the keeper coming out and I just decided to place it in the bottom corner. I looked up before I made the run and there were 14 seconds left and all of a sudden I score and I saw the timer.”
Bergen said the manner of the loss compounded the disappointment.
“I’m not even going to think about what happened there,” he said. “That shouldn’t have happened. The lesson for the underclassmen is it’s not over until it’s over.”
The Bears said they saw high expectations go unrealized during the conference season. Now they are just two wins away from a state title.
“During the year we had a few injuries, a few bad breaks and I think that tested us,” Laughton said. “They always believed in the team and never deviated from that, and I think that shows. It is really a tight-knit group. They really want another day together and that’s really been their motto. Let’s win this game so we have another practice together, another game together. They are living this right now.”