Girls soccer: Warriors top Westhill on PKs in FCIAC quarterfinals

The Wilton High girls soccer team was put to the test on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC playoffs and responded with an overtime win over the Westhill Vikings, winning on penalty kicks 4-2.

The fifth-seeded Warriors (12-4-1) now advance to play the top-seeded St. Joseph Cadets (12-2-3) in the semifinal round Tuesday afternoon (5 p.m.) at Wilton’s Kristine Lilly Soccer Field.

The Warriors’ heart and mental strength was put on the line, as the Vikings tied the score at 1-1 with just 28.9 seconds remaining in regulation play. The tie forced two ten-minute overtime periods and since the score was still deadlocked at 1-1, the game came down to penalty kicks.

Add composure to the list of things that were put to the test by the Warriors in what was a very competitive match played in Stamford.

The Warriors won the penalty kick toss and were first to kick. Sophomore Lindsay Groves, the team’s leading scorer, was first up. Vikings goalie Emily Pritchard came up with the save and after Westhill’s first attempt by Lindsay Hernandez found the back of the net, the home team had a 1-0 advantage, putting the Warriors in an early hole.

Next up for Wilton was senior co-captain Ashley Vitarelli, who tucked her attempt into the corner of the net. Alexandra Fischer put the Vikings back up 2-1 after two rounds with her goal.

Zoe Lash was next in line for the Warriors and her shot found the back of the net. The Vikings’ leading offensive threat, Chelsea Domond, took her shot next, but Wilton goalie Taylor Floyd came up with her biggest save of the year and after three rounds the penalty kick score was tied at 2-2.

Floyd took the Warriors’ fourth-round shot and buried her kick into the right corner of the net for the 3-2 Wilton lead. Westhill next attempt was by Claudia Benz, who shot went wide left of the net, giving the Warriors a chance to close out the game and go winners if their final player could put one past the Westhill keeper.

Andrea Benalcazar stepped to the ball and made no doubt about it, as she pounded it high into the left corner, setting off the Wilton celebration.

“This was a true test for this team to show what their made of,” said Wilton head coach Renato Topalli. “We told them before the overtime started that these things happen all the time in life and it’s how you respond to them will define you as a person.”

The coach was referring to the goal that the fourth-seeded Vikings (10-3-4) scored with less than 30 seconds in regulation.

Westhill dominated the first 10 minutes of the game, as the visitors had only one rush up the field during that time. The Vikings were very dangerous from anywhere on the field, as they could quickly switch the field and be knocking on the door for a score. When the Warriors did get things going they seemed to rush the ball up the field without getting an organized drive.

“We weathered the storm early. Our back four defenders (co-captains Brady Faria and Paige Gladstein, and Chloe Zimmerman and Carly Lattimer) turned in an outstanding game in keeping their high-potent offense in check,” said Topalli. “We knew their strengths coming into the game and we were focusing on Domond. But we also had to keep an eye on their four other scoring threats. The defense clearly frustrated them with their hard lockdown play.”

The Warriors finally broke through with a goal by sophomore Ally Dejana in the 25th minute of the game. Groves dribbled the ball down the wing and when she saw that she wasn’t able to turn the corner on her defender, pulled up to cut back to the middle of the field. The move froze the defender and actually caused her to lose her balance, allowing Groves to attack the net, but she had defenders in front of her and she saw Dejana open near the far post and passed the ball to her. With the Vikings’ goalie playing for Groves to take the shot, the net was wide open for Dejana, giving the Warriors the 1-0 lead.

The Warriors didn’t fall back and play defense in the second half. They came out and worked hard in the midfield zone, looking for another score.

With time running out, the Vikings able were able to move the ball up the field quickly for one last chance to tie the game and force extra time. Benz put back a rebound of a saved shot to tie the game with just 28.9 ticks left on the clock.

Neither team scored in the two 10-minute overtime periods, sending the game into penalty kicks to decide the winner.

Westhill, which beat the Warriors convincingly 7-1 in the teams’ season opener, had been on Wilton’s radar looking for the rematch to redeem themselves.

“We have looking forward to this game all season to show that we are not the team they beat 7-1 in our first game,” said Gladstein. “I guess it’s poetic justice that we beat them in a game that eliminated them from the FCIAC playoffs. We wanted to beat them more than anything. This game was very emotional for us and we knew we it was going to be a battle. We knew if we could contain Domond with some high pressure, it would limit their scoring chances.”