WILTON — Ridgefield midfielder Grace Franklin on Monday gave a verbal commitment to play next year at Colby College.
Twenty-four hours later, she demonstrated why she was so coveted by the Mules.
Off a set piece from just outside the box in the 28th minute, Franklin placed a perfect shot off a touch from Alex Damron high into the right side to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory over Wilton on Tuesday afternoon.
“If it is further out wide usually Alex or Alyssa will take it but if it is more center I’ll take it,” said Franklin, referring to midfielder Alyssa Bonanno and explaining the strategy involved on the play.
Asked why she takes the attempts more to the middle of the field, Franklin smiled.
“I’ll go for goal,” she said.
The Tigers reached the midway point of the season at 8-0, the only team with a perfect mark. They have outscored opponents by a 25-3 margin and done nothing to dim the optimism that greeted a year in which they had nine starters back from the 2015 FCIAC championship team.
Except for some missed opportunities finishing, Ridgefield on Tuesday demonstrated the many assets at their disposal. They did a good creating space, running overlaps, and except for a marking lapse that led to a great goal by the Warriors’ Andrea Benalcazar, the defense was unyielding.
“We stuck to our gameplan, we worked hard to create chances, obviously Wilton defended well and we scored a couple of goals,” said Ridgefield coach Iain Golding. “Overall a good performance.”
Ridgefield also accomplished something it has had to do just one other time this season: winning from behind.
Benalcazar’s header off Ashley Vitarelli’s corner kick gave Wilton (6-2-1) a lead in the 13th minute.
“We definitely would have been preferred not to have been scored on first but that was kind of the kick in the butt that we needed,” Franklin said. “If anything it motivates us. We know once we’re behind we don’t want to lose. We get really mad.”
The Tigers’ channeled that anger and responded in the 20th minute. A scramble off a set piece led to a goal by Alex Damron, who was celebrating her 17th birthday.
Renato Topalli, who has done a great job in his first season as the Warriors’ coach, said having little time to play with an advantage caused a huge swing.
“Usually we start to get momentum but we gave away too many chances and they’re very good in the air,” Topali said. “When you give a team like that chances it is just a matter of time.”
Ridgefield enjoyed a 21-4 edge in shots, putting eight on goal. Though she was not involved in the scoring, the Tigers’ Katie Jasminski proved a handful for the Wilton defense, beating defenders off the dribble or working sequences with Damron.
“They’re quality,” Topalli said. “They have very good quality players up top and I though Katie was phenomenal from start to finish. I thought when she got the ball she always made something happen. At times we let her beat us too easily, we gave her too much space. We could have done a better job but they had other players also step up. We generated decent chances but they weren’t great chances. Part of that is a credit to them. I thought we fought hard. We went down fighting.”
Ridgefield is in a difficult stretch of its schedule. It hosts Darien, which is also unbeaten but has three draws, on Thursday. Next week features the much-anticipated FCIAC championship game rematch with St. Joseph.
Franklin said she feels the Tigers are in a good position for the second half of the season.
“I think we’re going well both attacking and defending,” Franklin said. “In previous seasons we’ve had some issues, but I think we found that sweet spot of getting the defense together and being able to play out of the back between me and Alyssa (Bonanno) and also finishing goals with Katie, Alex and Natalie (Brassinga) up top. I think we have to come out and play both halves. Coach says sometimes we’ve been a second-half team, which works in our favor a lot of the time, but if we can be a full-game team that would obviously be better.”