Girls soccer: Tigers stun Cadets, 2-0 in FCIAC final

Unbeaten, with 11 regular-season shutouts – including a 3-0 blanking of Ridgefield High – coming into the FCIAC championship game, the top-seeded St. Joseph High’s girls soccer team was the clear cut favorite in its match with the Tigers. But third-seeded Ridgefield used a suffocating defensive effort to blank the Cadets 2-0 in the pinnacle match at Norwalk High on Wednesday night.

“They did a tremendous job defensively tonight,” said St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira, whose forwards encountered double-team marking by the Tigers every chance the underdogs got. “They limited our space, they didn’t let our dangerous players be dangerous today.”

With her team trailing 1-0 in the opening half, St. Joseph’s top offensive threat Jenna Bike did get a clean look from just outside the 18 yard box from straight on. Ridgefield goalkeeper Julia Middlebrook, who went on to earn MVP honors, dove to her left to preserve the lead.

Katherine Jasminski, assisted by Natalie Brassinga, had given the Tigers their first goal early on. Grace Franklin added an insurance marker nine minutes into the second half; Alexandra Damron assisted the goal.

The Cadets had to work hard for every chance, and generated a handful of second-half corner kicks as Marissa Grasso, Leah Lewis, Lindsey Savko, Jessica Mazo tried their best to pass or dribble into scoring position.

“They’ve got exceptional players all over the field,” said Ridgefield coach Alex Harrison, noting that the success his team earned was made possible because of hard work and concentration to make slides and shifts to stay with the Cadets at all times.

Harrison noted that defenders Claire Middlebrook, Molly Nethercott, Kathryn Barlow and Grace Franklin, along with defensive midfielder Morgan Hartmayer, all played well.

Cadet keeper Veronica O’Rourke made some big saves to keep her team in the game, including a leaping grab with her team behind 1-0 late in the opening half.

St. Joseph came out on a mission early in the second half, forcing a corner kick less than a minute out of the break. Grasso hooked the corner kick try over a maze of players and toward the goal, but Julia Middlebrook was there for the save.

Minutes later, the Tigers narrowly missed extending the lead when a long-range free kick clanked off the crossbar. Ridgefield scored again in the 49th minute after the Cadets’ defense blocked the initial shot.

Alexis Mason served the ball into the 18-yard box multiple times, and Grasso got crosses into the goal area as the Cadets tried to get back into the game, but the Tigers cleared the ball away before the Cadets could manage a shot almost every time.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Nogueira, adding that the Cadets certainly were aiming for a conference title. “We came up short today.”

The Cadets will try to bounce back in the state playoffs which begin on Monday (seedings to be announced on on Friday). St. Joes (18-0) and Ridgefield (13-2-3) will both look to have success in states.