WESTPORT – Staples girls soccer coach Barry Beattie motivated Catherine Sprouls prior to today’s Class LL second round game against New Canaan by telling her he had an instinct she was going to score.
Never mind that Sprouls had one goal this season, over a month ago.
It was perhaps the same inclination that led Beattie, after inserting Sprouls back into the game following a short rest, to instruct her to move from the usual spot outside the box to the far post on any corner kicks.
Sprouls, with the help of Ashley Wright, took care of the rest.
Wright delivered a beautiful ball in the 76th minute and Sprouls, positioned on the far side, headed the ball home to finish Staples’ come-from-behind 2-1 win.
“Barry said no, this time go in,” Sprouls said. “So I’m in the back of the six and the ball just came in perfectly and all I had to do was touch it. It went right in the goal. It was amazing.”
The Wreckers (17-1-3), seeded fifth, advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals. They will meet Trumbull.
“I’m really proud of Catherine,” Beattie said. “I had a feeling.”
The Wreckers, who were the top seed, have regrouped since a stunning opening-round upset loss to Darien in the FCIAC Tournament. They defeated a conference opponent for a second straight time and are two wins away from returning to the state final.
“We knew coming into this New Canaan had been a challenge all season and they advanced to the FCIAC finals, but we knew if we brought the intensity we had been bringing we would just clear right through,” Sprouls said.
Staples would have met the Rams in the conference semifinals. Instead, New Canaan reached the championship game. A rematch from the regular season — a 2-1 win by the Wreckers — was delayed eight days.
“We didn’t mention the FCIAC playoffs at all, the reason being we weren’t in it,” Beattie said. “We don’t want to talk about what could have been. The day we lost to Darien we moved on.”
The Rams (14-6-1), the surprise team in the conference, played well today and struck first, in the 16th minute. Emma Schuh crossed a ball in front of the net and Kaleigh Harden was there for the finish.
In a play that could have altered strategy, the Rams’ Dillyn Patten was freed for a breakaway in the 23rd minute, but Staples goalkeeper Zoe Barnett came out and made a spectacular save.
“The keeper did well,” New Canaan coach Rich Hickson said. “We went through, got a one on one but credit to the keeper, she made a nice save.”
The Wreckers equalized in the 43rd minute. Ava Simunovic put a ball from the right side in front of the net and Katie Ialeggio, despite being closely marked, used a hard one-touch to score.
Both teams had chances to go ahead. New Canaan’s Kendall Patten put a long set piece off the crossbar. At the other end, the Wreckers’ Autumn Smith set up Marlo Von der Ahe, whose shot was saved by the Rams’ Jordan Paterson.
That set the stage for Sprouls’ heroics. Beattie had praise for the player who created the opportunity.
“A great ball from Ashley,” Beattie said. “I actually crucified her a few weeks ago for not being able to deliver a good corner. Just more to spark a little more desire for her to work on it. She worked her backside off. Now she’s having good corners. I just fancied Catherine on the back post and she popped up brilliantly.”
It was an abrupt finish for the Rams, who faced a difficult draw.
“It’s been fantastic season, a fun season, a fun journey,” Hickson said. “We certainly didn’t want to end today but unfortunately that’s the way of the world. We give credit to Staples and Barry and wish them luck.”
The Rams continued their upward trajectory in Hickson’s third season, making their biggest stride.
“Every season we’ve kind of built,” Hickson said. “We’ve gotten better every year, gone a little further every year. We want this to be a consistent storyline. We want to be in championship games. The girls have set a standard.”
For the Wreckers, a championship game is on their current agenda.
“We are pushing for a state final and if the girls keep playing that way against good competition we should be OK.”