Girls Soccer

Slaminko’s Late Goal Lifts Ridgefield To 1-0 FCIAC Quarterfinal Win Over Darien

Caitlin Slaminko (right) is congratulated after scoring the winning goal for Ridgefield. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

RIDGEFIELD — The expected defensive battle between two of the stingiest girls soccer teams played out as scripted this afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC Tournament.

With overtime beckoning, it was two of Ridgefield’s young guns who again stepped up on one of the few good scoring opportunities to keep the team in the hunt for a third straight conference title.

Caitlin Slaminko volleyed in a cross from Faith Arnold in the 74th minute to give the Tigers a hard-fought 1-0 win over Darien at Tiger Hollow.

“I think the whole time it was a grind and we kept fighting and just finishing one was our goal,” Slaminko said. “We knew we weren’t going to win by a ton. It’s important to finish one, which we did.”

Darien goalkeeper Christine Fiore makes a diving save. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

Both teams had allowed just eight goals coming in — the Tigers won the regular-season meeting, 2-0. And the back lines and goaltenders again were the dominant factors. Ridgefield (12-2-3), the No. 4 seed, has struggled scoring at times this year, but many of their biggest goals have come from the creativity of Slaminko, a sophomore, and Arnold, a freshman, two of the underclassmen who have kept a program that graduated seven senior starters at the top of the standings.

Slaminko said knowing how the game was likely to play out, there was added urgency to convert what figured to be few prime opportunities.

“It’s really important once we get chances we finish them,” Slaminko said. “We have pressure on us but we work really well together now. Faith dribbled all the way to the end line, cut it back and I hit it from like the 6-yard box, right post.”

Darien’s Nelle Kniffin and Ridgefield’s Faith Arnold battle for a 50-50 ball. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

The Tigers will face top-seeded Staples, a 2-0 winner today over Wilton, in Monday’s first semifinal game. St. Joseph and Fairfield Warde will meet in the nightcap as all higher seeds advanced.

Despite the personnel losses, the Tigers figured to remain strong defensively with three starters returning in the backfield, led by Kathryn Barlow and Claire Middlebrook, underrated fixtures during their title runs the past two years. The duo again stepped up again today as the Blue Wave, who got the better of the play in the first half, could not get that one last pass to free an attacker in space.

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“I feel like the course of the game, I don’t feel like I can walk away and say we were the lesser team,” Darien coach Leigh Parsons said. “I feel the majority of the first half we had play in their end, many corners, lots of things that were around the box, a few OK shots, nothing convincing or too dangerous.”

Today’s result continued a frustrating trend for the fifth-seeded Blue Wave (11-3-3): they have lost to Ridgefield five times during the past three years — twice now in the playoffs — scoring just one goal.

Ridgefield’s Erika Linke and Darien’s Nelle Kniffin try to possess a loose ball. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

“It was those little few moments where we have those, I don’t want to say half-chances, but chances that we don’t get something at the end of and they get one half-chance and they get it on target and it loops into the back post,” Parsons said. “It’s frustrating to lose 1-0. Don’t get me wrong, Ridgefield is a good team but it’s frustrating walking away from a game 1-nil where in my mind I’m not convinced we didn’t deserve something out of that game. That’s the way it goes.”

Darien’s Christine Fiore, one of the state’s top goalkeepers, had the second-most dramatic moment of the match, robbing Slaminko with a diving save. That came in the 73rd minute, and moments later she had no chance when Slaminko delivered the decisive play.

“I thought Darien played very well and fought very hard,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “I want to give them a lot of credit because they made it difficult for us. Tonight we showed if we can work together we can bring the results. This is one of the things we’ve been lucky enough, if you don’t concede anything and we get a chance to score we take it. Tonight for us it was that, a good defensive performance, we limited their chances and took advantage of one.”

Darien’s Anna Fox tries to maneuver past Ridgefield’s Caitlin Slaminko. (Photo: Gretchen McMahon)

The balance in the FCIAC this season was perhaps most evident on the final day of the regular season, when the Tigers would have been the top seed with a win over Warde. Instead, a 2-0 loss dropped them down three spots.

That parity was again evident today.

“We are showing we can defend well, and if you do that you’ve got a chance,” Golding said. “Tonight we got a great goal and obviously the game could have gone either way.”