TRUMBULL — Behind by one goal with 33 seconds remaining in today’s CIAC Class LL quarterfinal, St. Joseph girls soccer coach Jack Nogueria couldn’t have possibly dreamed of a better scenario unfolding. After a foul on Ridgefield, Nogueria had his best player, Maddie Fried, lining up a direct kick from 22 yards out.
The game and the season were on the line for the Cadets. Fried took her time before letting loose with a blast toward the Tigers’ goal. But goalkeeper Kelly Chittenden stretched out and made a terrific save, although she was unable to hold onto the ball and fell out of position. The rebound dropped in front of the Cadets’ Anastasia Kydes, who was in perfect position for the rebound. But overtime was not to be on this day as Kydes’ shot from five yards out rolled wide and to the right of Chittenden, leaving Ridgefield with a 2-1 victory.
So, after a deep sigh of relief, the Tigers celebrated. It now it will be Ridgefield advancing to the semifinals while the season is over for the Cadets. Ridgefield, the two-time defending champion, will meet No. 1 Southington either Tuesday or Wednesday at a site and time to be announced.
“On that last play, I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “Our goalie made a great save and then I saw the rebound go by the post. Both teams certainly left everything out on the field today. It’s just unfortunate that this was only a quarterfinal. It was good enough to be the final.”
The fifth-seeded Tigers (17-1-3) now are one win away from reaching the state finals for the fifth consecutive season. The No. 4-seeded Cadets (16-2-3), meanwhile, who won four Class L crowns in five years from 2013-17, can only ponder the what-ifs.
“We have only two seniors who play a lot so we will be able to regroup and come back strong next year,” Nogueria said. “But this one today . . . it was tough to swallow.”
The start of today’s game was nearly as significant as the dramatic finish. The game was just five minutes old before the Tigers grabbed a 1-0 lead. Caitlin Slaminko’s perfect corner kick set up the goal. Grace Michalowski received the corner and took a shot from 10 yards out but before the ball had reached the goal line, Ridgefield’s Eva McKinley got a foot on it and the ball eluded Cadets goalkeeper Grace Hickey.
“We haven’t scored early in a long time so that was a great way to start,” Slaminko said. “Scoring early definitely helps getting the momentum.”
The Tigers rode it to a 2-0 lead when Slaminko took a feed from Faith Arnold and finished the play with a great individual effort, blasting the ball past a helpless Hickey in the 24th minute.
“(The Ridgefield defender) may have over-compensated as I was moving in and she got a little behind me so I was able to get a clean shot off,” Slaminko said.
Both Chittenden and Hickey finished with seven saves.
With Ridgefield’s strong defense, the two-goal lead loomed large. But just before halftime St. Joseph got a much-needed shot in the arm when Ridgefield was called for a hand ball in the box. Fried, one of the best players in the state, was Nogueria’s obvious choice to take the penalty kick — she scored on one to defeat the Tigers in the FCIAC semifinals — and she converted with 1:28 remaining in the half.
The score stayed that way as Ridgefield kept attacking rather than dropping back into a more defensive mode. The strategy worked as the Cadets, needing to keep players back, weren’t able to get going on offense.
“It’s easier to defend when the ball is on their side of the 50,” Slaminko noted.
And so it stayed a one-goal game until Ridgefield was called for the foul with 33 seconds left on the clock, setting up Fried’s and the Cadets’ final chance.
“On that last shot I saw the rebound and I said to myself, ‘Oh no, no way,’ ” said Slaminko, who was right in the middle of the crowd in front of the goal. “Fortunately for us the girl might have had too much of a touch on the rebound.”
“Their goalie made a great save and then Anastasia missed on the rebound,” Nogueria added. “If she hits it right, we’re still playing.”