Boys soccer: Wilton ties Staples to keep playoff hopes alive

It was Senior Night for the Wilton High boys soccer team on Thursday, but the team’s focus was more on what it needed to do in its two remaining regular-season games.

The Warriors, who needed at least a win and a tie in those two games to qualify for the state tournament, came from behind to record a 1-1 tie against Staples at Kristine Lilly Soccer Field, keeping their playoff hopes alive.

The Warriors (4-8-3) now need a win in their final game of the season on Monday at New Canaan to reach the postseason.

“I’m very pleased at the effort my team gave tonight, knowing that their backs were against the wall,” said Wilton head coach Jim Lewicki. “There have been several games that the team didn’t bring their best effort to the field, but tonight they gave it their all. Even when we were down 1-0, I was confident that they would at least get a goal to tie the score.”

Wilton got off to a good start and had a direct kick in the third minute of the game. But Ryan McNamara’s attempt sailed just over the crossbar. McNamara kept working hard in the offensive zone as he attacked the goal again in the eighth minute, but the Wreckers’ Chris Martenson slide-tackled the ball away from him before he could fire off his shot.

Both teams moved the ball up and down the field but neither could find the back of the net, as the teams played to a scoreless first half.

The Wreckers (7-2-6), who have already clinched a berth in the FCIAC and state playoffs, were looking to move up their seeding in both with a win and were working just as hard as the Warriors with their physical style of play.

The Wreckers got the game’s first score in the 53rd minute when they connected on a long direct kick. Thomas Nealon lofted a long direct kick toward the far post and it found the head of teammate Stephen Rowland, who flicked the ball into the net for the 1-0 lead.

Wilton got the tying goal with 14:20 left in the game. The Warriors were awarded a direct kick after a Wreckers’ foul near the sideline, near the corner of the goal box. McNamara took the kick and booted it toward to the far post looking to connect with one of his teammates in the goal box.

Senior Griffin Klinga was the teammate that McNamara’s ball found. Klinga was well guarded and turned to receive the ball and got his body on it and directed the ball into the net for the equalizer.

“I had a man in front of me and I turned to make a play on the ball and I got lucky it hit off me into the net,” said Klinga.

Klinga, who plays center defense, is called up into the goal box for direct kicks and corners due to his height.

“It’s my job is to get open and find the ball and get off a shot attempt. We all knew we needed to come away with a win or a tie to keep our playoff hopes alive,” he said.

“Ryan (McNamara) has been great the last couple of games with his direct kicks, giving us quality chances for goals,” said Lewicki.

With the score tied at 1-1, both teams seemed to turn up their energy level, looking for the game winner. Bodies were hitting the turf left and right, as the game got a bit more physical. Wilton goalie Charlie Hess made several key saves to keep the Wreckers from getting that game winner.

“We were getting some good runs up the field and we channeled our energy not to get a foul and put them at an advantage,” said senior co-captain Nick Davatzes. “It felt great not to lose on senior night and keep our chances to make states alive.”