Girls soccer: St. Joseph returns to Class L title game

Jessica Mazo put St. Joseph on top in the 21st minute, and Maddie Fried had two goals, to lead coach Jack Nogueria’s No. 3 seeded Cadets to a 3-0 victory over No. 2 seed Daniel Hand of Madison in the Class L state tournament semifinals at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven on Wednesday night.

St. Joseph (18-1-4) will be looking to capture its third consecutive state title, and fourth in five years, when it plays No. 1 seed RHAM from Hebron in Saturday’s final at 10 a.m. at Middletown High.

The Sachems (19-1-0) defeated No. 20 East Lyme, 3-0, in their semifinal.

“Jess did a tremendous job in the middle,” Nogueria said of his junior captain and box to box midfielder, who slotted a shot past Tiger keeper Morgan Lipford off a quick pass from Andriana Cabral. “She settled the ball down, and as a team we played to our strength which is to the feet.”

Fried, a freshman who has committed to play for Villanova University, made it 2-0 when she pounced on a loose ball to the left of Lipford and slid it across the goalmouth and into the net.

That tally came with 2:05 remaining in the half.

The play began with Nina Pizzicarola leaving the ball outside for Helen Mahoney, who finished her run by putting the ball on frame.

“I thought after their first goal, if we could maintain we’d be able to come out well in the second half,” said Tigers’ coach Dave Dikranian, whose squad hadn’t lost since their season opener (1-0 to Guilford) and finished 14-2-1.

“That second goal (coming so late in the half) killed us.”

Fried’s second goal was a thing of beauty.

She took created some space to the right of the 18 and from a tough angle lofted the ball over Lipford’s leap and into the upper left corner.

The goal came with just under 26 remaining in the second half.

“As a team we played the ball well to feet, while they liked to kick and run because they are so athletic,” Fried said. “Playing to the feet, gives us as a team much more opportunities at the wing and at the top.”

Daniel Hand controlled possession much better in the first twenty minutes of the second half, but couldn’t put a dent in the shape or determination of the Cadets back four.

Alexis Mason, Tory Bike, Hailey Vechiarelli and Mahoney took passing lanes away when the Tigers looked to switch fields, and the quartet was quick to funnel the ball to keeper Veronica O’Rourke.

“This was one of our better games all year,” Nogueria said. “I’m not sure if that was one of the better games for them. We stayed organized (in back) and always had an opportunity to recover.”

Dori Grasso, Julia DiCesare, Mazo, Cabral, Pizzicarola and Jordan Wymbs smothered attempts by the Tigers to build from the back, allowing the Cadets to counter quickly and keep the ball in the defensive third.

Dikranian said, “We created chances in the second half and I felt if we could get that one (goal), but we couldn’t get in and finish. They (St. Joseph) have the talent to do that. There is no margin for error.”