NAUGATUCK — Staples’ Reese Sutter settled a loose ball about 30 yards from the goal early in tonight’s Class LL semifinal, dribbled twice and, without looking up, took a solid shot on goal with her left foot.
It was a routine play. The result was not.
Sutter’s delivery skimmed past Glastonbury goalkeeper Madelyn Gehrhardt and into the back of the net.
The quick score, in the 8th minute, stood up as a relentless effort by the Wreckers’ defense closed out a 1-0 win over the previously unbeaten Tomahawks.
“No I really didn’t think it was going in,” Sutter said. “I just tried to kick it as hard as I could and test her early and I don’t think she expected it. We just got lucky. It is taking us to the finals.”
The fifth-seeded Wreckers (17-1-3) will face Ridgefield in the final Saturday for the second year in a row. The Tigers won the title by a 2-1 decision. The teams played to a scoreless tie during the regular season.
“We’ll take it. I feel bad for the goalkeeper,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “Listen, we take what luck we can get and hope it doesn’t run out before the final.”
Glastonbury won three straight titles before losing to Ridgefield in the semifinals a year ago.
Sutter’s play changed the dynamic and strategy. She said it also sent a message.
“I think coming in to it, Glastonbury hadn’t been defeated and I think they weren’t threatened by us so putting that away early showed that we were here to play,” Sutter said.
Beattie said he had several gameplans and was able to use the preferred one, protecting a one-goal advantage.
“We said 1-nil break us down and they couldn’t do it,” Beattie said. “I’m really proud of my girls tonight. They worked hard, battled through.”
Glastonbury (19-1-1) dominated time of possession but could not solve the Wreckers’ back line, led by sisters Gaby and Mia Gonzalez. Cailyn Lesher was all over the field. The forwards did a tremendous job applying pressure.
Perhaps the Wreckers’ grit was best evidenced by Ava Simunovic, who had to leave the game late in the first half with a bloody nose. She returned to the field with part of a tampon in her nostril.
“Our defenders played well but that was more from the defensive shape of the team,” Beattie said. “The early goal set us up nice. I’m OK when we defend deep as a team like that. They’re well-drilled and they get it. They understand how to stay deep and compact. Glastonbury is a quality-possession team.”
Though the Tomahawks had the ball much of the game, they had few prime chances. The best came in the 14th minute, but goalkeeper Zoe Barnett made a terrific save.
“Zoe came up massive with one huge save in the first half but other then that they couldn’t create any opportunities,” Beattie said. “If you can’t break a team down unfortunately you’re never going to score. We dug deep and we fought hard and put ourselves in a place that we wanted to be.”
Staples went unbeaten through the regular season and earned the top seed in the FCIAC Tournament, but was upset in the first round by Darien.
“That was a turning point for us,” Sutter said. “I think we haven’t had anything else on our minds except playing hard and having fun with it. That’s something we’ve kind of changed and it has been pretty successful.”
Sutter paused and smiled.
“I wanted to play Darien to give it to them after FCIACs but I’ll take Ridgefield,” she added.”
Beattie and Ridgefield coach Iain Golding are close friends. They shared an apartment last season.
“I’m excited. Any time I step up against Iain you know what it’s like,” Beattie said. “We’re good pals. I’m happy for him. He deserves all the praise he’s been getting but this time we will be ready. I’m delighted for him and I’m delighted for our girls and we’ll go again.”