NORWALK — As the ball headed toward the St. Joseph goal, Ridgefield High School’s Grace Franklin had a good feeling her direct kick from the 35-yard line was going to result in the game-winning – make that the FCIAC championship-winning – goal.
Even if St. Joseph goalkeeper Veronica O’Rourke got a hand on the ball, Franklin felt confident that Ms. Reliable, aka Katie Jasminski, would do what she always seems to do: be in the right place at the right time.
Sure enough, when O’Rourke jumped and tapped the shot up off the crossbar, the ball bounded out five yards in front of the goal, where Jasminski calmly headed it into the net.
Twenty-eight minutes later Ridgefield had defended its FCIAC championship with a 1-0 victory over the frustrated Cadets at Norwalk High School.
“I thought that (35 yards) was my range and after I kicked it I thought it was going in,” Franklin said. “Then the goalie tipped it but we have players like Katie who are meant to finish.”
Jasminski, MVP Alyssa Bonanno and the second-seeded Tigers (17-2) finished off St. Joseph just as they had a year ago in the FCIAC final. Last year was considered a big upset, this year not so much.
“Last year a lot of people couldn’t believe it because we were clear underdogs,” Jasminski said of the Tigers’ 2-0 victory over the previously undefeated Cadets.
“We had much of our group from last year back and that certainly helped us,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding added. “But today could’ve gone either way.”
Golding is right, especially considering the No. 1-seeded Cadets (16-2-1) had the better of play for a good part of the game. That only made it that much more frustrating.
“This is unbelievable, I’m so frustrated,” St. Joseph forward Lindsey Savko said. Savko and Jasminski, along with Westhill’s Chelsea Domond, are considered the best strikers in the FCIAC, but a tight Ridgefield defensive plan – and Savko’s tender quad muscle — totally slowed her down. That and a second consecutive loss in the finals explained Savko’s postgame mood.
“They did a good job of taking Lindsey out of the game,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said.
“They were prepared for me, they know me,” Savko added. “And pulling my quad didn’t help. I’m so disappointed because we were the better team.”
St. Joseph defeated Ridgefield, 1-0, in the teams’ regular-season meeting on Oct. 14. The Cadets have now lost just three FCIAC games over the last two seasons, and two of them came against Ridgefield in the finals.
“It was a scrappy game and these kind of games are often tight and decided by a mistake being made,” Nogueira said about the foul committed by the Cadets that set up the winning direct kick.
“It was a good call, the referee took some heat about it,” Golding said, “but I think he refereed a good game.”
St. Joseph had a great chance in the 17th minute when Sophia Smith sent a perfect cross to Julia DiCesare, who was in front of Ridgefield goalie Julia Middlebrook (nine saves). But DiCesare’s shot from 10 yards out went over the crossbar.
Nine minutes later Jasminski’s header off a direct kick was stopped by O’Rourke (six saves).
Then came the foul that set up Franklin’s kick from the 35 with 26:38 remaining in the second half. For a moment it looked as if Franklin would be credited with the winning goal. But O’Rourke made a great save, albeit all for naught thanks to Jasminski’s instincts.
“Coach Golding always told me to follow up every single ball,” Jasminski said. “If you’re in the right place at the right time, there’s always a chance.”
“Katie works tirelessly,” Golding added. “She was one versus four most of the game but she kept marking and marking. When you do that you get the breaks.”
NOTES: Ridgefield beat Staples, 2-1, and St. Joseph knocked off Wilton, 3-0, in Tuesday’s semifinals. … Ridgefield has now outscored opponents, 55-8, in 19 games. St. Joseph has outscored its opponents, 58-10, in 19 games. … Ridgefield’s two losses came against New Canaan and St. Joseph 24 hours apart (Oct. 13-14). The Cadets’ lone loss was to Darien on Oct. 17. … The championship was Ridgefield’s seventh all-time to go with five runner-up finishes. Before last year the Tigers’ last title was a co-championship in 2009. St. Joseph has won three FCIAC titles, with the last coming in 2013, to go with runner-up finishes the last two years.