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Wednesday, December 13 High School Sports

State final a culmination of tournament for the ages

Since Westhill won the Class LL girls soccer championship in 2009, only St. Joseph, in its one season at LL, has taken home the title for the FCIAC in the top division.

We will get back to St. Joe’s in a bit.

After Westhill won in 2009, Ridgefield (2015, 2016), Warde (2014), Trumbull (2012) and Westhill (2010) have finished as runners-up in LL.

This year, a FCIAC team will once again be runners-up in LL.

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CLASS LL GIRLS SOCCER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 4 Staples (15-3-1) vs No. 7 Ridgefield (14-2-3)

When/Where: Saturday at West Haven High School, 1 p.m.

Player to watch, Staples, Reese Sutter: The sophomore midfielder scored two goals in the semifinals, including the game-winner. With both teams focused on defense, offensive-minded layers like Sutter could be the difference.

Player to watch, Ridgefield, Kathryn Barlow. One of the seniors returning from last year’s squad, Barlow anchors the defense along with junior Claire Middlebrook. Defense has carried these teams all year, nothing should change in the championship.

Storylines: Staples has not won the LL title since 1989 and has not played in the championship game since 1995. Ridgefield has fallen in back-to-back championship games, both to Glastonbury. The Tigers have never won a state championship in girls soccer.

This year, a FCIAC team will also win in LL.

The league will cap a tournament for the ages with an all-FCIAC Class LL championship game between No. 4 Staples and No. 7 Ridgefield Saturday at 1 p.m. at West Haven High School.

The Class LL tournament this year was truly dominated by FCIAC teams.

The league put seven of nine teams in the second round, with only McMahon and Danbury, which lost to Darien, bowing out in the first round.

In the second round, Wilton fell to Newtown 1-0.

That game was significant because it was the last time a FCIAC team lost to a non-conference opponent.

Trumbull, Warde, Ludlowe and Darien all succumb to FCIAC foes.

Amazingly, Staples will go through the state tournament having never played a team from outside of the FCIAC.

The Wreckers had a first-round bye followed by wins over Ludlowe, Trumbull and Darien.

Staples will be the first FCIAC opponent Ridgefield sees in this years’ tournament coming out of the bottom half of the draw.

It is the first time since Staples beat Wilton in 1989 (also the Wreckers last title) that the Class LL final will consist of two FCIAC schools.

The FCIAC was guaranteed at least one finalist with Staples beating No. 8 Darien 3-2 in the semifinals.

The other side of the draw was anything but a sure thing as Ridgefield took on the team it had lost the previous two state finals to, Glastonbury, who had won three-straight titles and seemed headed for a fourth.

The teams were tied after 100 minutes, going to penalty kicks where the Tigers were finally able to exorcise the demons, winning the shootout 4-2 and sending them back to the championship game for the third consecutive season.

If you want to know how these teams got here, consider these stats: Before the semifinal, Staples had allowed two goals in only two games this season, a 7-2 win over Westhill and a 2-1 loss to Trumbull back in September. The three goals allowed by Darien in the semi were the most it let up all season. The Blue Wave only gave up two goals twice, a 2-0 loss to Ridgefield and a 3-2 win over Warde.

These teams made this far on the backs of their defenses.

Darien had 10 regular-season shutouts and two more in the state tournament, Staples also had 10 regular-season shutouts with one in states and Ridgefield held opponents scoreless 11 times in the regular season and twice more in states.

One of the three times Ridgefield allowed two goals this year was in a 2-0 loss to Staples Oct. 12.

The defensively-minded approaches the teams used all season have paid off big time in the LL state tournament.

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The phrase “defense wins championships” is a cliché for a reason. It is true, especially in a sport like soccer where a solid defense can dominate.

If there was ever a season the FCIAC deserved a Class LL state championship, it is this one.

While the majority of the FCIAC was clobbering each other in LL, league champion St. Joe’s has once again gone about its business in Class L.

The Cadets have won the last two Class L championships and will be playing for their fourth state championship in five years, having won LL in 2013.

St. Joe’s has become quite accustom to playing late soccer in November as it looks to match Glastonbury with three consecutive titles of its own.

To do so, the No. 3 Cadets will have to get through No. 1 RHAM who knocked out the only other FCIAC team in Class L, New Canaan, 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

Having gone through the defensive-mine field of the FCIAC season should have St. Joe’s ready to compete with the stingy Sachems who have let in only one goal this state tournament.

A St. Joe’s win Saturday will give the FCIAC two of the four state championship trophies awarded in the state.

Even if the Cadets cannot bring home title number three, the season had by FCIAC girls soccer teams in 2017 will be remembered for a long time to come.

In the future, if the FCIAC is having a strong year we will always look back and compare it to 2017.

Sericson@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports

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