Ridgefield edges St. Joseph in state quarterfinals

St. Joseph's Julia DiCesare (left) and Ridgefield’s Julia Bragg battle for the ball during Ridgefield’s 2-1 Class LL state quarterfinal win on Nov. 16, 2019.

St. Joseph's Julia DiCesare (left) and Ridgefield’s Julia Bragg battle for the ball during Ridgefield’s 2-1 Class LL state quarterfinal win on Nov. 16, 2019.

David G. Whitham / For Hearst Connecticut Media

Ridgefield vs. St. Joseph could have been a possible state final had the Class LL tournament seedings been a little different. But the two FCIAC girls soccer titans had to settle for a state quarterfinal Saturday afternoon.

As expected, the high-level contest came down to the final seconds, with St. Joseph trying to tie the score. But Ridgefield held on for the 2-1 win — and the chance for a third straight championship in Class LL remains alive for the Tigers.

“They took us out of FCIACs. Every single game we have had with them has been such a hard fight. It feels great to come out with a win,” Ridgefield’s Caitlin Slaminko said about St. Joseph.

The two teams tied during the season and St. Joseph eliminated Ridgefield in overtime in the FCIAC tournament semifinals. The Tigers will now face top-seed Southington in the semifinals Tuesday or Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.

“The game was good enough to be a final,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “Unfortunately, it was a quarterfinal. Both teams left everything on the field. Both teams worked as hard as they could. Luckily for us, this time, we were able to (win).”

Said St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira: “They are a very, very good team. I wish it was a semifinal game at least. But you can’t control the draw.”

The fifth-seeded Tigers (17-1-3) were able to limit shots for the fourth-seeded Cadets (16-2-3) thanks to a great defensive effort.

“They stick to their game plan. They are very defensive-oriented. They don’t take a lot of chances, but it works for him (Golding),” Nogueira said.

Ridgefield goalkeeper Kelly Chittenden had to make only two saves, but both were diving stops against St. Joseph junior Maddie Fried with under two minutes left.

The second was off a direct kick with just over 30 seconds left. Chittenden saved it, but the ball came out to Cadet Anastasia Kydes, who hit her attempt at the tying goal just wide.

“I said, ‘This is a goal. There is no way she is missing this,’ ” Slaminko said. “The goalie, she made the save, but it slipped out of her hands. The goalie was right there on the post and I think (Kydes) thought about it too much. I had a heart attack. My hands were on my face.”

All of the scoring came in the first half. Slaminko’s corner kick set up the first goal just over five minutes into the contest.

Grace Michalowski’s header was saved by St. Joseph goalkeeper Grace Hickey, but Eva McKinley was able to kick the rebound in from directly in front of the net.

Slaminko scored the second goal when she was able to beat her defender and Hickey to the opposite bottom corner with 16:31 left before halftime.

“I was dribbling and the (defender) came up. She kind of overcommitted to my right foot,” Slaminko said. “She was a couple steps (ahead) of me. I was able to get a clean shot off. It’s something we all have tried. Thankfully, it worked this time.”

The Tigers held the Cadets to just one shot for most of the half. But momentum swung with 1:28 left in the first half when Ridgefield was whistled for a handball in the box.

Fried made the penalty kick to get St. Joseph within 2-1, but the Cadets were unable to score the equalizer in the second half against Ridgefield’s defense.

“Defensively, I thought we were very good. We (defended) very well against Maddie,” Golding said. “She is a tremendous player. I thought we limited her chances today.”

St. Joseph was attempting to win its sixth state championship this decade.

“These are 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids trying to make the best decisions they can,” Nogueira said. “It’s tough to swallow. One game doesn’t determine the way these kids played. They did a tremendous job for us all year. That’s not to say we are happy. We play for championships. That’s what our program is about.”