Ridgefield beats St. Joseph in FCIAC girls soccer semis

The Ridgefield High girls soccer team will get a chance to win its third conference title in the past four years.

Caitlin Slaminko's goal with under three minutes left in the first overtime period lifted the third-seeded Tigers to a 2-1 victory over second-seed St. Joseph in the FCIAC semifinals Monday evening at Wilton High School.

Ridgefield (15-2-1) will now play fourth-seed New Canaan in the conference finals on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Fairfield Warde High School. New Canaan routed eighth-seed Darien, 5-0, in the second semifinal Monday at Wilton High.

St. Joseph, the reigning FCIAC champion, had beaten Ridgefield, 2-1, in a recent regular-season game. Before Monday's rematch, senior captain Claire Middlebrook said she and her Ridgefield teammates  were focused on “playing confident and working hard.”

But it was the Cadets who struck first, taking a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute on an impressive shot by Maddie Fried from 25 yards out.

Ridgefield struggled to find its stride in the opening 40 minutes. Despite several shots by freshman Meredith Clifford, the Tigers were unable to beat St. Joseph goalie Grace Hickey (11 saves), leaving the Cadets ahead at halftime.

Ridgefield was far more threatening right from the start of the second half, using its speed and runs down the side of the field to apply pressure on the St. Joseph defense.

Seven minutes into the second half, the Tigers got the equalizer. Faith Arnold sent a low corner kick into the box, and a St. Joseph player deflected the ball into her own goal.

Ridgefield kept pressing for the go-ahead score, with Megan Klosowski taking a long-range shot that Hickey was able to catch before it sailed into the net.

Both teams played more aggressively as time ticked away in regulation. A collision of heads between Clifford and a Cadet left both players on the ground, with Clifford forced to leave the field.

When neither team scored before the end of the first 80 minutes, the game went to two 10-minute overtimes. With three minutes left in the first overtime, Julia Bragg sent a crossing pass to Grace Michalowski, who played the ball forward to Slaminko. Slaminko took a few touches and then unleashed a beautiful shot from more than 20 yards out that went over Hickey and dipped into the St. Joseph goal for a 2-1 Ridgefield lead.

Led by Fried and Jessica Mazo, St. Joseph surged forward throughout the second overtime. But Ridgefield defenders Carrina Dabroi, Amelia Hynes, Carolyn Donovan, and Middlebrook did well to limit the Cadets to long-distance shots that goalie Lauren Castle comfortably caught to preserve the win.

“Everyone is super excited to be back in the final,” said Middlebrook after the game. “After losing last year (to Staples) in the semis we really wanted that feeling of victory back.”

Notes: Ridgefield defeated St. Joseph in the FCIAC finals in both 2015 and 2016.

If the Tigers beat New Canaan in Thursday's title game they will match Wilton's record of nine conference championships since 1983.