WILTON — When today’s FCIAC Central Region girls soccer semifinal was all said and done, Ridgefield had earned a berth in Thursday’s final against top seed Staples with a victory over Wilton that was decided on penalty kicks (0-0, 6-5 PK). But things were certainly looking bleak for the No. 2-seeded Tigers heading into overtime.
Actually, make that one second before overtime.
Wilton had an excellent chance to end the game right there when Ashley Carbonier controlled the ball and was about to pop a shot over Ridgefield goalkeeper Caroline Vilinskis, who was rushing out to meet Carbonier just outside the box to cut down the angle. Vilinskis did a great job getting out and blocked the shot with her hands.
But a goalkeeper can’t do what appeared to be an innocent natural reaction if she is the last defender between the shooter and the goal, and uses her hands outside the box. So even though the clock had struck 00:00, the ref decided the play occurred with one second remaining and Wilton was given a direct kick from about 19 yards out.
The direct kick was not the worst of it for Ridgefield. The rules state that the goalkeeper gets a red card for such an infraction. That meant that Vilinskis, who was already subbing for the Tigers’ No. 1 keeper, Kelly Chittenden (concussion), was out for the rest of the game. In came Ridgefield’s top player, Faith Arnold, before Carbonier’s kick sailed over the goal.
The teams were going to overtime but it was still crisis time for the Tigers, who were now without their top two goalkeepers and their top attacker, not to mention being down to 10 players on the field.
“One second left…,” Ridgfield interim coach Barry O’Reilly said, shaking his head. “It was a tough call but it was the right call. After that, we just had to figure it out.”
“I told the ref that it seemed a bit harsh to give their goalie a red card for that,” Wilton coach Renato Topali added.
While Arnold wasn’t needed to stop the direct kick with one second left, O’Reilly decided to send Arnold back out in goal for overtime. The problem, however, was that aside from occasionally practicing in goal for penalty kicks, it had been quite a while since Arnold played the position.
“The last time I was in goal was in third grade,” Arnold said. “I had confidence in our defense but I was worried about myself.”
She may not have been the only one on the Ridgefield sideline to feel that way. But Arnold, who faced a game-tying penalty kick in place of the injured Chittenden last week against Staples, fended off the third-seeded Warriors during the 20-minute overtime and then stopped the final Wilton penalty attempt before Julia Bragg converted to send the Tigers (5-0-3) into the championship game.
“Honestly, I was nauseous for the penalty kicks,” Arnold said. “With one second left, that was an unlucky call. After all that, it was all going to come down to PK’s with me in goal.”
Wilton (5-3-2) had an earlier chance with 40 seconds remaining in regulation when Carbonier broke in alone down the left side on Vilinskis (four saves), who made the save on the shot from about 15 yards out.
Other than those final 40 seconds, Ridgefield had the better of play for most of the second half but was unable to get a shot past Wilton’s Erynn Floyd (seven saves).
“It was frustrating in the second half because we didn’t capitalize,” Arnold said.
“It’s never an easy test when we play Wilton,” said O’Reilly, referring to the two ties between the teams during the regular season. “But we always come on strong. We’re a second half team. Our fitness shows.”
Wilton had a great chance to go ahead with 2:50 remaining in the first 10-minute overtime period but Heather Plowright’s blast went off the crossbar.
“I thought it was an even game,” Topali said. “We had some good opportunities to win it late and that one off the (crossbar). Wow, what a game. This is what a semifinal is supposed to be. We were focused for 100 minutes and then penalty kicks are a toss up. I’m super proud of the girls.”
Carbonier started the round with a goal, then Kira Howard, Emerson Patillo, Plowright and Maddie Wecker also converted against Arnold.
Meanwhile, Ridgefield also went five for five against Floyd to start. Allison Ouellette, Charlotte Kemp, Grace Michalowski, Eva McKinley and then Arnold all converted to send the match into a sixth round. Arnold then stopped Elizabeth Connelly’s attempt, which left it up to Bragg, who knocked it into the left corner of the goal.
At that point, nobody wearing Ridgefield white, black and orange was thinking about the red card given to Vilinskis earlier. It meant that she will not be able to play against Staples.
“We’ll figure it out tomorrow,” O’Reilly said.