Ridgefield beats Glastonbury on PKs, advances to state finals (updated)

For the Ridgefield High girls soccer team, this game was about revenge.

After falling to powerhouse Glastonbury in the state finals the past two years, Ridgefield defeated the Tomahawks, 1-0, in the CIAC Class LL semifinals Wednesday night at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. The game was scoreless through regulation play and two 10-minute overtimes, with the Tigers prevailing on penalty kicks (4-2).

“It’s revenge,” said junior defender Claire Middlebrook as the Tigers celebrated after the game. “They knocked us out in the finals [the last two years] and we deserved this.”

Searching for the first state championship in program history, seventh-seed Ridgefield will meet conference rival Staples in the Class LL title game on Saturday (Nov. 18) at West Haven High School at 1 p.m. Staples, the fourth seed, defeated eighth-seed Darien, 3-2, in the other semifinal Wednesday.

The Wreckers have beaten Ridgefield twice this fall: 2-0 during the regular season and 1-0 in the FCIAC semifinals.

With Wednesday's semifinal tied 0-0 through 80 minutes of regulation play, Ridgefield and sixth-seed Glastonbury headed to two 10-minute overtimes. But the Tigers struggled to get into the teeth of the Glastonbury defense and were unable to get off a good shot in either of the overtime periods.

Glastonbury nearly scored in the eighth minute of the first OT, as a high, arcing shot bounced off the crossbar and went out of bounds. The Tomahawks also had the most dangerous chance in the second overtime, but Ridgefield goalie Lauren Castle made a great stop on Chloe Landers' free kick from 25 yards.

The teams then lined up for penalty kicks, with Glastonbury's Kacey Rolfe missing the first attempt. Middlebrook and Emma Jacobson converted their shots to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1, and Castle then saved the third Glastonbury attempt. Kathryn Barlow scored to give Ridgefield a 3-1 lead before Glastonbury closed within 3-2. But with the Tomahawks down to their final chance, freshman Faith Arnold calmly powered her penalty kick into the left side of the goal to clinch the best-of-five victory for Ridgefield.

As soon as Arnold's shot hit the back of the net, her teammates exploded into cheers and stormed towards the goal. They ran the width of the field over and back, basking the in the glory of a victory over their state tourney nemesis.

“Lauren [Castle] made some awesome saves and I just felt like, ‘I need to bury it for the whole team,’ ” said Arnold about her game-winning penalty kick. “Especially because me and Caitln [Slaminko] couldn’t really finish our shots, and I just wanted to put something in.”

“[Glastonbury are] a great team,” said Ridgefield head coach Iain Golding. “Obviously, going to overtime and penalties and all that kind of stuff, I would rather have avoided. But that’s what it took to beat a very strong Glastonbury team ... I’m just happy for the girls, they’ve finally beaten Glastonbury.”

Ridgefield was in control throughout the first half, dominating possession and working methodically to create scoring opportunities for its forwards. The Tigers had some good chances off of free kicks, but none made it to the back of the Glastonbury net.

The Ridgefield defense was tough in the first half as well. Middlebrook, Carolyn Donovan, Emma Jacobson, and Amelia Hynes all contributed to keeping Glastonbury out of the middle and breaking up speedy counterattacks.

Glastonbury did nearly score in the 22nd minute, after it moved the ball right up to the mouth of the Ridgefield net. But junior keeper Lauren Castle prevented a shot from point-blank range by diving onto the ball just as a swarm of Tomahawks arrived looking to knock it in.

Ridgefield came out of halftime looking confident and aggressive in the early minutes of the second half. The momentum seemed to shift in the 11th minute, however, as Glastonbury forced a turnover and went out on a fast break towards the Ridgefield goal. Castle came out far to challenge the drive and dove to grab the ball just in time.

The Ridgefield defense tightened up again after that, as Middlebrook, Donovan, and Kathryn Barlow did good work pushing Glastonbury drives out to the wings and trapping the ball in the corners. Still, the Tigers were unable to get any rhythm going on offense, apparently stymied by a deep-set Glastonbury defense.

“Their defense was playing back a lot. Personally, I wasn’t really used to that,” said freshman forward Faith Arnold. “They were really strong in tackles and it was just hard to get around them because they’re also very quick in the back.”

But once the game went to penalty kicks, the Tigers didn't need to worry about getting past Glastonbury defenders. By converting its first four chances, Ridgefield clinched a victory that surprised one of its own players.

As the Tigers sat down to stretch after the game, Middlebrook stood up and gave a speech to her teammates. She talked about the uncertainties the team had to overcome to make it back to the state finals. She confessed that even she had doubted the squad's chances following a 4-1 loss to Glastonbury in last year’s finals.

“I just remember last year, the disappointment of losing in the state finals,” said Middlebrook. “Our assistant coach Adam [Sebastian] said to me, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get back next year.’ And I said, ‘No, we aren’t because we lost all our seniors.’

“I wasn’t expecting anything from this season, necessarily, but once we started the season I had faith in us,” added Middlebrook. “We’re making it back. And I think this is the year we’re going to win it.”