Wilton girls soccer beats Ludlowe, advances in state tourney

The ninth-seeded Wilton High girls soccer team held on for a 2-1 victory over 24th-seed Fairfield Ludlowe in the first round of the Class LL state tournament at Lilly Field on Tuesday afternoon.

Early goals by freshman Paisley Eagen and senior Laine Parsons gave Wilton all the scoring it would need to secure the victory and advance to a second-round game against Staples on Thursday at 2 in Westport.

Less than three minutes into the game, Annika Sheehan delivered a perfect cross for Eagen to direct into the bottom-right corner of the net. Wilton’s strong start continued when Parsons outraced the Ludlowe goalkeeper to a pass from midfielder Hannah Maatallah  and shot into an open net to give Wilton a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes.

“I didn’t want to have the play end like that after all the hard work my team put into getting there, so I pushed through the goalie and passed it into the back of the net,” said Parsons about her goal.

The result was well deserved, as Parsons’ speed and heavy pressure caused Ludlowe’s defense problems all afternoon. Senior forward Madison Peraino also created a lot of havoc off the bench with smart movement and passing.

Despite being outplayed in the opening half, Ludlowe got a goal back at the 16:17 mark when Wilton goalie Cecily Freliech was able to get only a piece of Ludlowe sophomore Heather Smith’s strong free kick before it hit the back of the net. The shot was Ludlowe’s only quality chance in the first half.

Wilton responded well to the Ludlowe goal, and came close to restoring its two-goal advantage several times before halftime. Sheehan, Parsons, captain Makenna Pearsall and Haley English all had shots at Ludlowe’s net.

Meanwhile, Wilton’s defense held firm the few times Ludlowe applied pressure. Jillian Lauricella and Bridgette Dwyer, along with Casey Tucker, all contributed important interceptions and tackles.

Wilton’s strong midfield was another key to its first-half success. The trio of Pearsall, Maatallah and Karen Brosko won the midfield battle handily, helping at both ends of the field. Pearsall and Maatallah calmly distributed passes to teammates, while Brosko fought to win several headers.

Coach John Salvatore had a reason for his team’s dominant first half. “A great preparation week," he said. "The girls prepared well this week, and the girls were sharp.”

The second half was a different story, though, as Ludlowe raised its game and put the Warriors on their heels. Early in the half, Tucker was forced to make a desperate sliding interception to prevent a Ludlowe breakaway and a possible tying goal. Ludlowe tightened its defense in the second half and used its speed to set up frequent counter-attacks. Freliech had to come off her line several times to sweep up Ludlowe passes that got behind Wilton defenders.

Wilton struggled to find any consistent pressure in the second half, although Sheehan continued to make dangerous runs. Rebecca Hersch and Julie Kobyra also contributed, with Hersch using her speed to get in behind the Ludlowe defense and Kobyra working hard on the left side of the field.

There was a scary moment 15 minutes into the second half when Maatallah and Ludlowe's Elizabeth Dailey knocked heads fighting for the ball. Both players had to leave the game.

Ludlowe continued to push for the tying goal as the half continued. Morgan Quinn and Kaela Martin challenged Wilton’s defense repeatedly with their speed on the wings but were unable to get many shots on goal. Lauricella, Dwyer and Tucker defended soundly and made several vital clearances.

In the closing minutes, smart passing by Sheehan, Eagen and English kept the ball in Ludlowe’s end to burn time off the clock as the Warriors secured the victory.

Waiting for Wilton in the second round will be a familiar foe: The eighth-seeded Staples Wreckers — the same team that knocked Wilton out of the FCIAC tournament two weeks ago by a score of 2-0.

Staples reached the second round of the state tournament by defeating 25th-seed Manchester, 3-0, in another first-round contest on Tuesday.

“We have to bring the same focus," said Salvatore about the upcoming game against Staples. "We will definitely have more in our belly, but we know it's got to be better."

“The girls and I are really excited for Thursday’s game," added Pearsall. "Staples was really physical during the FCIAC quarterfinals, and we didn’t respond well. We feel like we have unfinished business and can’t wait for the rematch."