St. Joseph edges Staples, 1-0, to claim FCIAC girls soccer crown

The St. Joseph Cadets have reached the FCIAC girls soccer final in three straight seasons, but in each of their previous two trips, they’ve gone home disappointed.

As it turns out, the third time was the charm for the Cadets.

Freshman Maddie Fried scored the game’s only goal late first half and the St. Joseph defense did the rest, as the Cadets shut out the Staples Wreckers, 1-0, to capture the FCIAC championship Friday night at Ludlowe’s Taft Field.

It was the St. Joseph program’s fourth league title since 2008, but more to the point, it put the disappointment of the last two seasons to rest.

“It’s fantastic, but more importantly, it’s great for the kids,” Cadets’ head coach Jack Nogueira said. “I have four, but this group of kids, they’ve been through a lot and it’s a special group. To come out and play the way that they played and show up in a big game like this — I’m ecstatic. I’m very proud of them.”

“This feels amazing,” senior co-captain Tory Bike said. “We’ve wanted this so bad and we had two upsets two years in a row, and we wanted this more than anything as seniors and as a team.”

The game featured a wild ending as the top-seeded Wreckers pushed forward and applied a ton of pressure on the St. Joe’s back line and goalie Veronica O’Rourke (11 saves).

Staples earned a corner kick in the closing seconds, and Julia Lombardo served it into a host of players in front of the Cadets’ net. O’Rourke got a hand on the ball, punching it over the top of the cross bar and off the football goal post.

The Wreckers began celebrating what they thought was the tying goal, but the officials confirmed the ball had gone over the top, and the Cadets finally had their championship.

“On the corner kick, we all need to mark up, and Veronica made an amazing save,” Bike said. “She tipped it up, it hit the yellow and the ref called it. They thought they scored but we knew it hit the yellow (goalposts) and we won.”

The Wreckers had some good early chances, as Arianna Gerig hit the crossbar in the 20th minute, and a crossing pass from Gerig to Lombardo was just out of reach in the 24th minute.

The Cadets countered when Nina Pizzicarola worked free in the left corner. Her shot got past goalie Anna Sivinski (12 saves), but rolled wide of the far post.

Late in the half, Fried collected the ball near midfield and fired a shot from 30 yards out. The ball curled perfectly into the top corner, giving St. Joe’s the 1-0 lead with 1:11 on the clock. Fried was named the game’s MVP.

“She’s been doing it all year,” Nogueira said. “It’s something we’re not very surprised about — she’s had two or three like that this year. She’s a very talented player. I’m happy to have her for another three years, absolutely.”

“That was amazing,” Bike said. “Right when she scored, we all ran over to her. Maddie’s always getting those shots off and helping the team when we need it.”

St. Joe’s kept the heat on in the second half, with pressure from Adrianna Cabral, Jessica Mazo, and Fried, among others.

Sivinski made a huge stop in the 67th minute to keep the deficit at one. With the Cadets pushing forward, Cabral took a shot near the right post and was blocked by Sivinski, who then dove back to cover the ball and prevent another chance.

Defensively, the Cadets were solid throughout, with O’Rourke, center backs Bike and Hailey Vecciarelli, a sophomore, and senior Alexis Mason and freshman Helen Mahoney coming up huge.

“The back line played well all playoff long,” Nogueira said. “From Tory Bike to Hailey, my two center backs, my left back Mason, and my right back, who I had to sub in today, a freshman sub, and she stepped in and did a tremendous job. I’m very happy with the defense.”

The Wreckers kept the Cadets’ defensive third on their toes down the stretch.

“We just wanted to keep our composure,” Bike said. “We knew they’d be coming at us and we wanted to get the ball out to our forwards and keep possession. We just stayed as a unit back there and communicated.”

After the win, Nogueira again gave the credit to the talented players on his roster.

“I’m blessed,” Nogueira said. “I’ve got players and when you’ve got players, you can do things.”

“We’ll take the win, regroup, and get ready for states.”