NEW CANAAN -- To say that Ridgefield turned on the gas in the final minutes of play would be an understatement. The Tigers were in a fury. Three successive penalty corners as time ran out almost broke down New Canaan's solid defense, but not quite. In the end, the fourth seeded New Canaan Rams (10-2-0-1) held on by a thread to come away with 2-1 victory over fifth seeded Ridgefield (8-5) to advanceto the FCIAC semifinals.
"Thank goodness the game was only 60 minutes," said New Canaan coach Erin Gildea, whose team was a bit shell-shocked from the intensity of the Tigers' eleventh hour assault. "We were lucky to pull through."
New Canaan had little trouble taming the Tigers when they faced each other during the regular season. In that matchup the Rams cruised to a 3-0 victory, and they were half expecting Saturday's game to be more of the same, but Ridgefield looked like a different team.
"They are vastly improved from when we played them earlier in the season," Gildea said. "They were tough as nails today."
Ridgefield captain Sam Maiolo echoed that sentiment. "I don't think they expected us to play like we did," she said. "At the end we realized how close we were and that we actually could do this. If we played like that the whole time, I feel like it would have been a different game."
New Canaan came out of the gate strong in the first half with Elizabeth Miller and Mo Schott creating multiple scoring opportunities. The Rams' defense was also masterful in bottling up the Tigers' offensive thrusts.
When Schott collected a rebound and sent it home for the first tally of the game at the 11 minute mark, it looked like New Canaan was on its way.
Then six minutes into the second half New Canaan's Catherine Granito, managed a quick stop on a pass from Tess Decker and then blasted a shot on goal which deflected off an opponent's stick and went high past Tigers goalie Page Andrews.
With a two goal cushion the Rams seemed content to simply manage the pace of the game. The Tigers, though, clearly still had some fight left in them.
With 15:45 remaining, the Tigers took advantage of a penalty corner. The ball rattled around in front of New Canaan's goal until Maiolo was finally able to strike gold for the Tigers.
That goal ignited an intensity in Ridgefield that they sustained until the final buzzer. Although they created multiple scoring chances they could not get past New Canaan goalie Emma Ball.
With the flurry of shots that the Tigers had at the end, they surpassed the Rams in total shots on goal for the game 7-6. Similarly, Ridgefield maintained a 9-6 edge in penalty corners.
"Our defense pulled through at the end," Granito said. "They get a lot of credit for today's game."
"It comes down to executing, and we just didn't capitalize" said Ridgefield coach Maddie Hoeppner. "We are definitely more of a second half team, and that has been a battle for us from the beginning of the season."
"Ridgefield was definitely a formidable opponent," New Canaan captain Abbie Jameson said. "When opponents start playing with that kind of energy, we need to play a 60 minute game."
new canaan 2, ridgefield 1
New Canaan.............1 1 -- 2
Ridgefield.........0 1 -- 1
Goals: NC: Schott, Granito; Ridgefield: Maiolo Assists: NC: Decker Saves: NC: Ball 6; Ridgefield: Andrews 4