The St. Joseph High girls soccer team turned a 1-0 halftime nail-biter into a 4-1 triumph over Greenwich High in the FCIAC tournament semifinals at Wilton’s Kristine Lilly Field on Monday night.
With the win, the top-seeded and unbeaten Cadets advance to face No. 3 Ridgefield in Wednesday’s championship game (5 p.m. at Norwalk High). No. 4 Greenwich will look to bounce back in the state playoffs.
The Cadets, who defeated the Cardinals 8-0 early in the regular season, didn’t break the ice until the first of Leah Lewis’ two tallies, with less than 10 minutes to play in the opening half.
St. Joe’s threatened to extend the lead before the intermission, but Greenwich goalkeeper Emma Barefoot came up with some big saves, including diving efforts to deny Jenna Bike and Jessica Mazo in succession with less than four minutes to play.
Bike nearly added to the lead less than a minute into the second half, but after weaving through the defense, her shot was deflected just wide. Bike, however, did find the back of the net minutes later, when her shot grazed a defender and changed directions slightly before getting past Barefoot just 4:04 into the half.
Less than a minute later, St. Joe’s keeper Veronica O’Rourke made a leaping save on Katherine Gallagher’s bid on a free kick from a sharp angle along the right sideline.
The Cadets made it 3-0 when Lindsey Savko booted home a cross from Alexa Cimino with 30:22 remaining. “I feel like we got more confident in the second half and were passing more balls through,” Savko said.
St. Joe’s coach Jack Nogueira noted that the offense had well-timed runs, patience with the ball, and did nice job of getting the ball out wide in the second half. He attributed his team’s slow start to the fact it wasn’t tested too much late in the campaign. The Cadets, in fact, beat their final three opponents by a combined score of 21-0, and the starters were rested throughout much of the action.
“Now we’re trying to get back into the swing of things,” Nogueria said, adding that his team can improve especially on the defensive side of the field.
O’Rourke wasn’t tested often, but when she was, the Cardinals certainly were in good position to score.
O’Rourke dove to her right to rob Anna Giannuzzi on a breakaway midway through the second half. Giannuzzi was fouled in the 18-yard box, while going for the rebound, and a penalty was called. Emily Berzolla took the penalty kick and was stopped as O’Rourke again dove to her right to knock the ball away.
“She’s played well for us all season,” Nogueira said.
Savko and Marissa Grasso both hit the crossbar on clean hard shots, before Lewis’ cross from the right side caromed off a defender and into the net, making it 4-0 with 13:42 to play.
Alexa Cimino and Tory Bike made strong defensive plays to help keep the shutout intact until Greenwich got on the board with 8:37 left. Kimberly Kockenmeister’s low shot went just out of the reach of O’Rourke, inside the right post; Treloara Harrisson assisted the goal.
Grasso clanked another one off the top bar about a minute later, and the hard-working player also hit the post on a corner kick earlier in the half.
Nogueira said he expects Ridgefield, which his team beat 3-0 this fall, to be a dangerous opponent.
“Hopefully we play a little bit better and we come out on the winning side,” he said.
The Cadets aren’t content with reaching the conference’s pinnacle contest – they’re out to win it.
“We expected to be there. It was our goal from the beginning,” Jenna Bike said.
“We’re just going to go out and play our game,” Grasso added.