WILTON – When Ridgefield High School’s Caitlin Slaminko gained control of the ball about 25 yards away from the St. Joseph goal there was, unlike sometimes with her in the past, no hesitation.
“Everyone yelled at me, ‘Shoot!’ Slaminko said after her game-winning goal in the 87th minute of tonight’s FCIAC girls soccer semifinals gave the Tigers a 2-1 victory at Wilton. “I just put my head up and kicked it and then saw the ball go over the (goalkeeper’s) head.”
Thirteen minutes later, after the second 10-minute overtime had ended, Ridgefield was on its way to the FCIAC championship game. The Tigers (15-2-1) will face New Canaan at 7 p.m. Thursday at Fairfield Warde High School. New Canaan advanced to the final with a 5-0 win over Darien in tonight’s second game.
“I’m always telling Caitlin to shoot it more,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding. “It was nice to see her do it with confidence.”
The victory — Ridgefield’s fifth in a row — gives the No. 3-seeded Tigers a chance to win their third league crown in the last four years and avenged a 2-1 loss two weeks ago to the second-seeded Cadets (14-2-2).
“Everyone dreams about scoring the winning goal in an important game like this,” said Slaminko, who had two goals in Ridgefield’s 4-0 quarterfinal win over Trumbull. “I just knew I had to put it in when I got the chance.”
The goal ruined St. Joseph’s hopes of defending its FCIAC championship.
“It was a typical Ridgefield-St. Joseph game, back and forth,” Cadets coach Jack Nogueira said. “We made a mistake on a corner (allowing Ridgefield to tie the game in the 48th minute), and then gave them a free shot from in front of our goal. But give them credit, they capitalized.”
St. Joseph jumped in front in the fifth minute when Maggie Fried’s boot from 24 yards out beat Ridgefield goalie Lauren Castle (nine saves). But the Tigers got the equalizer on an own-goal in the 48th minute.
The play began with the Tigers being awarded a corner kick and Faith Arnold put the ball exactly where she wanted to, in front of the Cadets’ goal. What happened after that was a bit chaotic before the ball caromed off a Cadet defender and past goalkeeper Grace Hickey (11 saves) for the tying goal.
“If you put the ball in a dangerous area, anything can happen,” Golding said.
The game was virtually even from that point on, until Slaminko got the ball in the open field and didn’t hesitate.
New Canaan 5, Darien 0
In the FCIAC quarterfinals, Darien, the No. 8 seed, upset top-seeded Staples in overtime following a scoreless 80 minutes of regulation. Now in tonight’s semifinals, could the Blue Wave pull off another defensive-dominated performance against the speedy, high-scoring Rams?
Uh, that’s a no.
New Canaan scored three first-half goals and went on to a surprisingly easy 5-0 victory.
“Every game we try to be aggressive,” New Canaan coach Rich Hickson said after the No. 4 Rams earned a berth in the FCIAC final for the first time since 2009. “Sometimes it works.”
It worked tonight. With Emma Schuh scoring two goals, the Rams (13-4-1) never gave the Blue Wave (10-6-2) much of a chance. The Rams scored 19 minutes into the contest and added two more goals before halftime to set up a pressure-less second half, on their way to one of the more lopsided results in this intense rivalry.
“When you don’t have the ball, it’s hard to score,” Darien coach Leigh Parsons said, referring to New Canaan’s aggressive offensive approach. “We weren’t trying to sit back. That’s hard to do against a team like New Canaan. We’re at our best when we try to play.”
After a relatively even 18 minutes, Katherine Lisecky got the Rams on the board with an odd goal. Her boot from just inside the midfield line took a high bounce over Darien goalkeeper Olivia Maniscalco (seven saves) and rolled slowly into the net before Maniscalco could grab it.
“That first goal took a little pressure off us,” Hickson said.
“That first goal,” added Parsons, “took the wind out of our sails.”
Schuh, who had the only goal in a quarterfinal win over Wilton, then made it 2-0 with her first goal, in the 28th minute. Eight minutes later Kaleigh Harden knocked the ball out of Maniscalco’s grasp and into the net for a 3-0 lead.
Midway through the second half Schuh made it 4-0 with a great individual effort.
“The first time we played it was close so I didn’t expect to beat them by 5,” Schuh said of a 1-0 Rams win. “We’ve improved a lot since then. I knew we had a strong team, a very good offensive team, and getting to the final is a very big accomplishment.”
Two minutes after Schuh’s second goal Dillyn Patten wrapped up the scoring for the Rams.
New Canaan goalie Jordan Paterson stopped six shots to earn the shutout.