Girls soccer: Cadets nip Tigers in battle of FCIAC’s best

Sophia Lowenburg makes a run up the sideline. — Andy Hutchison photo
Sophia Lowenburg makes a run up the sideline. — Andy Hutchison photo

Two of the FCIAC’s top squads, St. Joseph High and Ridgefield met Monday afternoon in Trumbull and the host Cadets earned the latest bragging rights with a 2-1 victory.

This game represented the conference champion from each of the last three years, with the Cadets having won a season ago, after two straight years of losing to Ridgefield in the FCIAC’s pinnacle game.

So was this the Cadets’ biggest win of the campaign?

“To me, it’s more about us continuing to play better and play our best soccer when the playoffs begin,” Cadet coach Jack Nogueria said. “That’s when it matters. But it’s certainly a good win against a good team.”

Both of the St. Joe’s goals came off set pieces — the first off a corner kick and the second following a free kick from long range.

All three net-finders, in fact, came via restarts with the Tigers capitalizing on a free kick to tie the score.

The winner, off the foot of Mary Lundregan, gave the Cadets a record of 12-0-1, as the Cadets jockey with Staples of Westport for the top seed in the conference playoffs.

Not far behind are the Tigers, who fell to 10-2-1.

Caroline Sheehan’s lefty boot corner kick from the right wing side was banged home by Hailey Vecchiarelli in the opening half.

The score remained 1-0 until Ridgefield’s Caitlin Slaminko deposited a loose ball during a scramble Grace Michalowski got the assist, following Claire Middlebrook’s free kick from about 50 yards out with 32:17 left in the second half.

Ridgefield’s tally came moments after a shot from Slaminko, from the right side, deflected off the crossbar and the Cadets had escaped, or so they thought.

With 22:37 to play, Maddie Fried sent a free kick into the 18-yard box from 30-or-so yards out, along the left sideline. Jess Mazo and Ridgefield goalkeeper Lauren Castle collided after Castle caught the ball, popping it loose.

Lundregan was there to kick it home, and the Cadets hung on.

“It was just bouncing, there was a scrum in the box and I just volleyed it in,” Lundregan rehashed.

“You can see how dangerous they are off set pieces,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said.

St. Joseph goalkeeper Grace Hickey needed to make just one save for the win. Solid defensive work from the entire back unit included Sophia Lowenburg with a key slide tackle and Vecchiarelli and Hailey Cocca in on some timely breakups.

“I think the defense played well today. They did what they needed to do,” Nogueira said.

The Cadets had the better of the possession and all-around play in the first half. Ridgefield was strong to begin the second, leading to the tying tally.

“We came back hard, trying to win the game so I was pleased with that,” said Nogueira said, who felt that Fried’s play was significant in the outcome, not only because of her setup on the free kick but in that she controlled the ball a fair amount.

“I think Maddie was fantastic. I don’t think they could deal with her,” Nogueira said.

Nogueira, whose team was beaten 2-0 at Ridgefield in the regular season a year ago, said home field advantage — the Cadets haven’t lost in four years as the hosts — proved to be significant.

“In the first half, we let them dictate the game, dictate the tempo,” Golding said.