Girls soccer: Wilton's PK magic continues in state quarterfinals

For the second time in a little over two weeks, the Wilton High girls soccer team defeated the Westhill Vikings by the way of penalty kicks to advance in postseason play.

This time it was in the Class LL state tournament on Monday, as the Warriors won on penalty kicks, 4-2, to earn a berth in the semifinals.

The 13th-seeded Warriors (15-5-1) now move on to face the top-seeded and undefeated Glastonbury Tomahawks (18-0) on Wednesday. The site and time for the game are still to be determined.

It is the first time Wilton has reached the state semifinals since the Warriors won the Class L title in 2008.

The last time Westhill and Wilton met, in the FCIAC quarterfinals, it was Wilton that emerged victorious on penalty kicks.

There were several similarities in the two contests. They both were played in Stamford, although on a different field on the Westhill campus this time. Wilton scored first in both games, both had scoreless overtime periods, and the Warriors came away with the win in both on the exact same penalty kick score, 4-2.

For the Warriors there was one big difference — a new goalie in net. Taylor Floyd was between the pipes in the first game, but is out for the season with a knee injury, so Covadonga Perez Pelaez has taken over the goalie duties.

Perez Pelaez, who saw limited time in the regular season, got her first start in the semifinal round of the FCIAC playoffs and drew the St. Joseph Cadets as her first opponent. Wilton lost 3-0 to the Cadets. But since her christening she has been solid in net and playing with more confidence, allowing only two goals in the three state tournament games.

“The coach gave me a pep talk before the penalty kicks to calm me down and get me focused,” said Perez Pelaez. “When the first penalty kick was just to my right and I came up with the save, it helped me calm down more and relax me. We’ve worked on penalty kicks in practice and I have a lot of experience with them in my summer league, which also helped me get through today’s kicks.”

“Covadonga is a perfect example of the next player up,” stated Wilton head coach Renato Topalli. “We tell the team to stay ready because anybody could get hurt and they may be needed. She kept herself ready and worked hard in practice and I’m happy that she came up big for us today on the penalty kicks. She deserved her moment.”

Westhill, the 12th seed, won the penalty kick coin toss and elected to go first. Perez Pelaez saved the first shot attempt by Francesca McDonald. The next two players up for the Vikings, Alexandra Fischer and Natalie Druehl, got it past the Wilton goalie, as she guessed right but they were just out of her reach.

The first three Warriors up to take penalty shots, Lindsay Groves, Ashley Vitarelli and Zoe Lash, all pounded the ball into the back of the net. With the Warriors ahead 3-2 after three rounds, the fourth player up for the Vikings, Lindsay Sanchez, had her shot sail over the crossbar, giving the Warriors a chance to win with the next shot attempt.

Topalli sent freshman Sophia Sudano to the line for the next try and she buried the ball into the corner of the net for the game winner.

“Wilton hasn’t made it this far in the state tournament in many years and we’re so excited that we did it,” said Chloe Zimmermann, who plays center back and has been solid all season long protecting her goalie and sending the ball back up the field out of harm’s way.

“At times we were a bit disorganized. They have several good attackers with good ball skills, but we wanted it so much we kept our focus and worked hard as a team,” she said.

The Vikings controlled the tempo and the ball for most of the first half and showed great ball handling skills and great diagonal passes. But once the Warriors made their first organized rush up the field, they found paydirt. With 4:58 remaining in the first half, Lauren Chiappetta played the ball to Andrea Benalcazar, who was unmarked in the center of the field in the goal box. Benalcazar sent a low, hard shot into the corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Early second half action saw both teams put forth good offensive chances, but the score stayed 1-0 in favor of the Warriors. Westhill finally got on the board with a goal in the 13th minute of the second half. The Vikings transitioned the ball quickly up the field and McDonald found Chelsea Domond shoulder to shoulder with the Wilton defender. Domond got a step and the angle and put it home to tie the score at 1-1.

The two teams did not score in the two 10-minute overtime periods, forcing the game to be decided via penalty kicks.

“Since we had success with our game plan the last time out we stuck with it for this game,” said Topalli. “They have a lot of players that can score and handle the ball well, but our team showed a lot of heart today and no quit attitude and that’s what helped them get the win.

He continued, “This season has been like a rollercoaster with all the ups and downs, but I feel that has made the team stronger and prepared for battles like this. Things weren’t working early, but they kept working hard and weathered the storm. They all support each other and don’t want to let their teammates down.”