Ridgefield girls lax beats New Canaan, moves on to first FCIAC finals

In what has been a school-year full of sports breakthroughs, another Ridgefield High team joined the party Monday night.

With its 14-11 semifinal win over second-seed New Canaan at Norwalk High School, the Ridgefield girls lacrosse team advanced to the conference championship game for the first time ever.

The sixth-seeded Tigers (14-4 overall) will play top-seed Darien in the FCIAC finals Wednesday evening (7 p.m.) at Norwalk High. Darien routed fourth-seed Staples, 23-4, in the second semifinal Monday night.

"We've had so much potential, and it finally came together," said Ridgefield senior midfielder Annie Hage. "Absolutely, making the finals was something we thought we could do. But I'm still in shock."

"This is the first time we've made it to the finals, so it means so much," said head coach Cece Berger. "It wasn't something I thought we were capable of doing before the season started, but when I saw how we were working on things and improving, I began to realize it was possible. Now I'm just really excited that we actually did it."

In the teams' regular-season meeting, New Canaan took a 5-0 lead, withstood a Ridgefield rally that made it a one-goal game, and pulled away at the end for a 16-10 triumph.

On Monday night, however, it was Ridgefield that asserted itself early, opening a 5-0 advantage of its own less than three minutes into the first half.

Caroline Curnal, a force throughout the game for the Tigers, started the onslaught by scoring on a turnover, and Hage, Caeleigh Tannian, Caitlin Slaminko, and Lucie Picard followed with goals against a New Canaan defense that looked bewildered.

"They came to play," said New Canaan head coach Kristin Woods about the Tigers. "They have some spectacular athletes, and one thing I told my kids before the game was that the Ridgefield players were competitors, and they're driven, and we've got to show up and play.

"We didn't get the draw controls right away," added Woods, "and we went down 5-0."

The Rams did awake from their doldrums by scoring four of the next five goals — three from Braeden Dial — to close within 6-4 with 7:07 left in the first half.

The teams traded tallies the rest of the way — Slaminko, Curnal (two) and Picard for Ridgefield; Karlie Bucci (two), Dial and Julia Ozimek for New Canaan — leaving the Tigers ahead, 10-8, at halftime.

When New Canaan standout Campbell Armstrong scored the first goal of the second half, the Rams were within one at 10-9. At that point, previous Ridgefield teams might have wilted; this one persevered.

Two straight goals from Tannian restored the Tigers' lead to a more robust 12-9, and after freshman goalie Lexi Held twice denied New Canaan's Gianna Bruno on shots from in close, Curnal buried a feed from Slaminko, putting Ridgefield ahead 13-9 with just over 13 minutes remaining.

New Canaan then had a goal disallowed due to a crease violation and went down a player for two minutes when Armstrong received a yellow card for a foul. Dial scored shorthanded to trim Ridgefield's lead to 13-10, but another yellow card on the Rams led to Curnal's goal with 4:44 left.

Hage was then sent off for two minutes with a yellow card, and Armstrong gave New Canaan some hope by scoring on an artful individual move to make it 14-11 with 2:10 remaining. But Ridgefield skillfully moved the ball around for more than a minute, and New Canaan's final possession ended when Kaitlyn McMullan forced and recovered a turnover and the Tigers ran out the clock.

Notes: Curnal finished with five goals and excelled on draw controls for Ridgefield. Tannian and Picard each added three goals, while Slaminko had two goals and Hage contributed one goal.

Dial led New Canaan with five goals. Bucci and Armstrong each scored two goals, and Bruno and Ozimek added one goal apiece.

The Rams used three different goalies during the game.