For the Ridgefield High girls soccer team, the only goal it needed Sunday afternoon came in a recognizable manner from a non-conventional source.
Junior Megan Klosowski, a defensive midfielder better known for dispossessing opponents, scored on a header off Faith Arnold’s corner kick late in the first half as the seventh-seeded Tigers repeated as Class LL state champs with a 1-0 win over fifth-seed Staples at West Haven High.
Although Klosowski’s goal was the game-winner, Ridgefield needed senior goalie Lauren Castle to deny Staples from scoring the equalizer in the second half.
The Wreckers, who also lost to Ridgefield, 2-1, in last year’s title game, had three superb scoring chances denied by Castle, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Castle’s biggest rejection came in the final minute, after Ridgefield temporarily cleared a corner kick before Staples regained control and played the ball into the box. Freshman Gabby Gonzalez was able to get there first and go in one-on-one with Castle, who came off her line to make the save.
“I was just trying to cut down the angle and make myself as big as possible,” Castle said. “If you just stay on your line then you’re never going to get it … I just tried to come out and give her (Gonzalez) as little room to shoot as possible.”
“We’re been very strong on set pieces all season and we scored a real nice goal,” Ridgefield head coach Iain Golding said. “And then at the other end Lauren came up with a fantastic save to win the game for us.”
Castle’s second most impressive save came in the opening minute of the second half, when she got a hand on Reese Sutter’s free kick from 27 yards away and deflected the ball over the crossbar.
“I saw that it was going high and that I wouldn’t be able to catch it,” Castle said. “So I just played it safe and tipped it over.”
Castle also did well to turn away Marlo von der Ahe’s attempt with 1:30 left, diving to her right to smother the ball.
“I think you can take their goalkeeper being MVP two ways,” Staples head coach Barry Beattie said about Castle. “One, she was busy; two, she’s a top-class goalkeeper.”
Scoring opportunities were limited in the first half, as both defenses clamped down on through balls and neither goalie was tested. Ridgefield (21-2-1) broke through with 7:53 left before the break, as Klosowski headed Arnold’s corner into the back of the Staples’ net.
“I was in the right spot at the right time,” said Klosowski, who at 5’4” is one of the Tigers’ shorter players. “We practice it so many times and heading is one of the things that I do. Earlier this season I had one (a goal on a header) and last season I had one, too. But this is such a different atmosphere. It’s crazy.”
After Castle parried Sutter’s free kick over the crossbar early in the second half, Ridgefield produced several quality chances. Julia Bragg used her speed to track down a through ball and then outmaneuvered a defender before sending a shot right into the arms of Staples goalie Zoe Barnett. Arnold shot wide following a great pass from Caitlin Slaminko, and Claire Middlebrook’s free kick from 25 yards out was bobbled by Barnett, who was able to scoop up the ball before Slaminko could get a foot on it.
Playing with urgency, Sutter and the Wreckers controlled the final 10 minutes. But Middlebrook and fellow defenders Carrina Dabroi, Amelia Hynes and Carolyn Donovan were able to clear most balls in the box, and Castle was there to deny the shots that came her way.
“I feel sad for our girls. I think over the course of the game we had more chances … we were pushing the pace,” Beattie said about Staples, which ended the season with a 17-4-1 record. “They scored a good goal and their goalkeeper made some huge saves. But we’ll come back next year. I know we will.”
Notes: Ridgefield was playing in its fourth straight Class LL state final. The Tigers lost to Glastonbury in 2015 and 2016 before beating Staples last year.
The shutout was Ridgefield’s 21st in 24 games this season. The Tigers allowed only four goals this fall, outscoring the opposition by a combined 75-4.