Field hockey: Wilton holds off Tigers in quarterfinals, 2-1

Going into Friday's FCIAC quarterfinal game, the Wilton High field hockey team wasn't taking visiting Ridgefield lightly.

Having squeaked out a 1-0 win over the Tigers just two days before, the Warriors knew they couldn't afford to.

And it was good they didn't, as second-seeded Wilton held on once again to edge the feisty Tigers, 2-1, and advance to Tuesday's semifinals.

Wilton (13-4) scored twice in the first 20 minutes and took a 2-0 lead into halftime. The seventh-seeded Tigers (10-7) turned things around in the second half, pushing the action into the Wilton end and cutting the lead to 2-1 midway through the half.

"They're a strong team. Their record doesn't indicate how strong of a team they are," said Wilton High Coach Deirdre Hynes of Ridgefield. "They're definitely one of the surprise teams in the state tournament. I know they got off to a slow start in the beginning of the season. That's pretty much why their record is what it is."

"We came back and we fought hard, and that's why I have to give credit to my team," said RHS Head Coach Colleen Cannon. "We definitely started to get some some momentum. We started to get corners. We started to get some shots on goal. Unfortunately it just didn't go our way in the second half. In the first half we let them get two goals, which kind of killed us for the second half."

Wilton wasted no time, going up 1-0 just 2:14 into the game on a goal by Bridget Ward, set up by a strong run along the end line by Maddie Duffy.

Ridgefield came right back with some excellent pressure, earning three penalty corners and some good scoring chances. The best came on some nifty moves at the top of the arc by Katherine Pieterse, who got the ball into the middle of the arc, where a shot by Julia Wilson went wide right.

But at about the eight-minute mark, the Warriors seized the midfield, and the momentum — and it would be a good 17 minutes before the Tigers would threaten again.

Wilton, over that time, got great midfield play from Gwen Hall, Sophia Kaplan, Ward and Jillian Mahon, along with forwards Caroline Ferro, Duffy, Emma Rosen and Delaney Chase, and backs Meredith Rappaport, Jess Hendry and Molly Thomas, to keep Ridgefield on the defensive.

The lead went to 2-0 with 10:34 left in the first half, on a corner, when Ferro blasted a shot from the right side of the arc that was deflected towards the left post, where Mahon was on the spot to knock it in. Ferro got the assist.

Wilton came very close to scoring again about two minutes later, off another corner, when goalie Ellie Kaiser made the stop on Ferro's blast from the top of the arc, and then held her ground as players scrambled for the rebound.

The Tigers began to push into the Wilton end in the final four to five minutes of the half, and nearly scored with under a minute to go after another great run by Pieterse, which led to a shot by Wilson that goalie Amanda Hendry blocked. Kimmie Weinstock then sent the ball right back to the front of the goal, but a timely clear by Rappaport defused the danger.

Hendry came up with another save with 30 seconds left in the half, on a Ridgefield corner, and Wilton was able to clear the ball as she was on the ground about five yards in front of the goal.

The Warriors controlled the early minutes of the second half, earning a corner just 30 seconds into the half after a good run and some hard work in the arc by Ward. A minute later, Kaiser made a save on another Wilton chance.

Just like that, the momentum took a huge swing and it was the Tigers suddenly taking it to Wilton, as they took control of the midfield with aggressive play by Margot Racy, Sarah Wilson, Aneeka Britto and Claire Watsik, and especially Weinstock, Rebekah Silver and Pieterse. The back line of center back Gwen Ellis along with Hailey Guerra and Natalie Silver, didn't allow another shot the rest of the game.

After three unsuccessful corners, the Tigers used a bit of trickery on their fourth corner of the half to score. On the play, Natalie Silver was stationed on the end line ready to insert the ball, while her teammates were formed in a circle at the top of the arc, as if talking over their strategy.

With Wilton waiting for the Tigers to set up, Silver inserted the ball, catching the Warriors off-guard. The ball went to the top of the arc, and Rebekah Silver quickly sent it back towards the left post, where Natalie Silver was perfectly positioned to knock it into the cage with 15:23 left.

The Tigers kept coming, with some more good bursts by Weinstock on the left side, and then got a boost with 12:13 left when Kaplan — who played a great game for Wilton in the midfield — was sent off with a yellow card, putting the Warriors a player down for five minutes.

But the Wilton back line — Rappaport, Hendry and Thomas — played solidly in pressure situations to clear dangerous balls and hold the fort. Ridgefield's last dangerous chance came with about two minutes left when Rebekah Silver exploded out of the Ridgefield zone with the ball and took it over midfield, passing to Pieterse, who carried down the left side to the end line. By consecutive passes from the side by Pieterse were blocked at the post by Hendry.

The Tigers also got a corner with under a minute to play, but Kaplan broke up the play to basically seal the win.

Hynes said she wasn't surprised with Ridgefield second-half performance. She said the Warriors had expected as much.

"I knew their momentum can turn like that, because we played them two days ago," she said. "When they're pushing and their momentum rises, they're an entirely different team. They elevate their game that much higher. We were prepared for that because we experienced that on Wednesday night."

For Cannon, it was another step for a Ridgefield program that's on the rise.

"It shows where we're going, and people are scared of us a little bit. We have some players who are really strong on our team I think Rebekah Silver is a great attacker. Katie Pieterse did a great job attacking the goal, so did Kimmie Weinstock. And our defense today and Ellie Kaiser in goal were incredible."

Ridgefield finished with a slight edge in corners (7-6) and both teams had seven shots on goal, with Hendry making six saves and Kaiser five saves.

Mahon, one of Wilton's senior captains, said the intensity of the game, and Ridgefield's performance, wasn't a surprise.

"Not really because Ridgefield's such a great team. We knew they were really talented and they had a lot of momentum," she said.

Mahon felt the test would help the Warriors as the playoffs go along.

"It really shows us what we need to work on before we get to the next game and then the game after that," she said. "Coach Hynes told us when we lost to Lakeland and Mamaroneck that those are just lessons, and this was a lesson, and even though we had a card and were down for five minutes, we knew how to handle it. We composed ourselves. So it was a good test for games going forward.

"We just want to get back to the finals. Like I said at the beginning of the season, we're going to do whatever it takes."