Strong first half lifts Ridgefield past Central in state opener

With a three-goal halftime lead, the Ridgefield High boys soccer team appeared headed toward a blowout. Instead, the Tigers needed to hold on.

That they did, keeping Bridgeport Central scoreless over the final 25 minutes to close out a 3-2 victory in a Class LL state tournament first-round game Monday night at Tiger Hollow.

Fifth-seed Ridgefield (13-4-1) will now meet another conference rival, 21st-seed Staples, in a second-round game Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Tiger Hollow. Staples advanced with a 1-0 overtime win over 12th-seed Stamford on Monday.

From the opening kickoff, Ridgefield set the tone by quickly gaining possession and swiftly moving the ball upfield for a shot on goal by midfielder Alex Glass. Off a corner kick in the 13th minute, Christian DeVivo eluded a Central defender and headed the ball into the ground and off the crossbar for Ridgefield’s first serious chance of the night.

Three minutes later, striker JT Siano rocketed a free kick from 25 yards away over the Bridgeport Central wall. The ball glanced off the crossbar and into the Hilltoppers goal, giving Ridgefield a 1-0 lead.

Just two minutes later, Siano made it 2-0, weaving through multiple defenders at midfield before hitting a shot from 15 yards out that found the top right of the Central goal. After being shut out in Ridgefield's 1-0 overtime loss to Danbury in the FCIAC quarterfinals, Siano was back in familiar form Monday, constantly pressuring the Central backline.

DeVivo followed Siano's second strike with a goal of his own to widen Ridgefield's lead to 3-0. Off a long pass from central defender Nick David, DeVivo lofted a shot from a difficult angle on the left side over Central keeper Olmann Pauyo, who was far out of the goal.

“I ran onto the through ball from Nick [David] and noticed the keeper coming out in the corner of my eye,” said DeVivo, “so I took advantage of him being out of position and chipped it past him.”

Ridgefield came close to padding its lead before the break on a shot by Siano and a header from midfielder Alex Lust that was ruled offsides.

Down 3-0, Central regained defensive composure on defense in the final 40 minutes and closed to within a goal.

Seven minutes into the second half, Central's Joshua Smith slipped past the Ridgefield backline and placed a shot just right of goalie Ray Dearth’s reach, cutting the Tigers' lead to 3-1. Ridgefield was without one of its better defenders, senior fullback Shane Bowler, who was ineligible after picking up a yellow card in the loss to Danbury.

Central soon followed with its second goal, as Jonathan Gomes converted on a free kick to trim Ridgefield's lead to 3-2 with 25 minutes remaining.

But despite more renewed offensive vigor from Central, Ridgefield was able to hold on for the 3-2 victory and a spot in the second round of the Class LL tournament.

“After losing the first round of FCIACs we had a while to prepare for this game,” said Siano. “We’ve implemented lots of new strategies that I think went well tonight.

“The midfield did a really good job winning balls and stopping [Bridgeport Central’s] key players,” added Siano. “Now that we have the ball rolling, I think what we’ve been working on will really come together and help us advance far into the tournament.”