Girls soccer: Warriors escape with 1-0 win in state opener

 After having to wait two days to play its opening-round game in the Class LL state tournament against a different opponent due to a seeding error by the CIAC, the Wilton girls soccer team came away with a 1-0 shutout of the 20th-seeded E.O. Smith Panthers (8-8-1) on Wednesday.

Wilton (12-4-1) advances to play the fourth-seeded Enfield Eagles (14-2-1) on Friday in Enfield.

The 13th-seeded Warriors, knowing that if you lose, you’re done, put forth a lackluster performance in Wednesday’s game at Kristine Lilly Soccer Field.

“We clearly came out over-confident against them, thinking that we score against them and get the win,” said senior co-captain Ashley Vitarelli. “We showed no sense of urgency and played to the level of our opponent. We came out strong and put early pressure on them and I guess we just figured it would continue. We were kind of surprised that there was no score at halftime.

“We know at any time it could be our last game of the season and the final game of some our high school careers,” she continued. “If we do lose we want to go out with our guns ablazing, fighting to the end.”

In the first half the Warriors did have a few scoring chances, but never challenged the Panthers goalie, Rachel Hughes, or put the ball on net. In the fifth minute of play, Vitarelli lofted a great corner kick towards the far post, but no Warrior teammate was in position to make a play on the ball.

In the 15th minute, freshman Sophia Sudano’s long-range boot sailed over the net. The Panthers, who couldn’t mount any sustained offensive drives either, did put several shots on net when they got deep into the Warrior goal box. But Wilton’s netminder, Covadonga Perez Pelaez, was in perfect position to make the saves and keep the visitors off the boards.

Second-half action saw more of the same play from the first half, with most of the action being played in the midfield area and no quality scoring chances.

In the 18th minute of the second half, Andrea Benalcazar launched a high ball from the wing to the goal mouth, where it found the head of Bria Albanese. But Albanese’s header went over the crossbar to keep the game knotted at 0-0.

But with 16 minutes remaining before overtime, Benalcazar’s through ball finally connected with sophomore Lindsey Groves just as she was splitting the Panthers defenders. Benalcazar’s pass hit Groves in stride and Groves speed put her one-on-one with the Panthers’ goalie. Groves waited for the goalie to make her move and sent the ball into the back of the net.

With 12:40 left in the game, the Warriors looked to increase their lead on a direct kick by Benalcazar, who played a mid-range direct kick into the goal box and found Julia Vitarelli's foot. But the Panthers goalie was in position for the save and to keep the lead to one goal.

Wilton Head Coach Renato Topalli knows his team will need to step up their play in the next round.

“I feel that the team will make the adjustments and show up for their next game, as I wasn’t pleased with the way we played today” said Topalli. “We were fortunate to come away with a win today. We clearly played to the level of our opponent and didn’t bring the level of intensity you need to have in the postseason. We have to go out and play our game and try to score more.”

He continued, “We lost our starting goalie Taylor Floyd to injury, but she was also our vocal leader on the field. We need our seniors to lead this team on the field and keep the team focused and working hard.”