NAUGATUCK — Trailing by a goal at halftime of tonight’s Class LL girls soccer semifinal, Ridgefield coach Iain Golding sent his team back to play with six words.
“Nothing gets left on the field,” Golding said.
The Tigers followed that instruction. Overcoming the deficit unfortunately proved more problematic.
Despite dominating time of possession in the second half and winning seemingly every 50-50 ball, the Tigers saw their season and run of four straight state final appearances ended with a 1-0 loss to top-seeded Southington.
The Tigers literally pressed the attack to the final second, forcing Knights goalkeeper Emily Eigo to make a save as time expired.
The finality could be seen on the face of Caitlin Slaminko, one of the Tigers’ three captains and part of a senior class that will forever be remembered in town sports lore. Slaminko walked to the sideline, hands on hips, looking somewhat stunned. That expression turned to sadness and, as she caught glances of her teammates, finally tears.
“We gave it all we had,” said midfielder Megan Klosowski, who along with Carolyn Donovan are the Tigers’ other captains. “We left everything out on the field. I think that’s the most important thing. The character, the heart of this team, that’s something special. And that’s something that has been the same every single year that I’ve been part of the program. I think that’s what I am going to miss the most.”
Ridgefield, the fifth seed, finished the season at 17-2-3, with both losses coming in postseason semifinals. For the first time in five years, the Tigers will not be playing on the final day of the season.
“I’m very proud of the players and upset for the captains and seniors,” Golding said. “They are the first group in the last four years not to make a final. They are all devastated. But as I said to them it is a testament to the program that they’re disappointed not making a final where there are a lot of teams in the state that would be happy to have the season we had. It’s a good thing the program is where it’s at but it’s also a disappointment to lose.”
For perspective, the Tigers are the only team in LL to play in four straight finals since the sport went to four classes in 2000. Only Wilton, during the Kristine Lilly era, topped that total in L when there were just three classes.
An even first half featured two shots off crossbars by unbeaten Southington (17-0-2). It was the second, in the 35th minute, that would prove decisive. The rebound came out to Maya Wroblewski, who finished to score the only goal of the night.
The Tigers moved the ball well and continued to send players up late in the game, handling the losses of backs Donovan and Charlotte Kemp to injuries. It was a credit to Southington’s defense that it always seemed to have a player in front of Ridgefield’s shots.
The best chance to equalize came at the very end. Slaminko created space to cross a ball in front of the goal. Tasha Riek hurried in and from 10 yards out went in the air and got everything she could on a header, but Eigo deflected it away.
“I thought they did excellent, they just couldn’t get luck or the break of a ball to get the goal, but I’m very proud of them,” Golding said. “I’m disappointed to give the goal up in the first half but at the same time in the first half there were stages where the game was going back and forth. They took advantage of one of the chances they got so fair play to them. I’m just disappointed that with the number of chances we did create and the amount of opportunities we just did not get a break.”
It remains to be seen where tonight will fall on the spectrum during this historic run for the program, but the seniors helped put two league and two state championship plaques in the school trophy case.
“Today just wasn’t our day,” Klosowski said. “We gave it everything we had and when you do that there’s no regrets. We really fought. I know next year they’re going to use this as motivation to work harder and just come back stronger next year. And we’ll be supporting them from wherever we are.”