WESTPORT — The shots and scoring opportunities were plentiful, but the goals weren’t for Staples, which was embroiled in a scoreless tie at halftime against visiting Greenwich in the quarterfinal-round of the FCIAC Field Hockey Tournament on Friday.
As the minutes passed by, the tension mounted a bit for the Wreckers, who entered the tournament seeded second with only only loss to its ledger. Then the always reliable Kyle Kirby stepped up and creating some breathing room for the hosts.
Kirby scored the go-ahead goal 6:57 into the second half, then converted a penalty stroke at the 19:50 mark, lifting No. 2 Staples to a 2-0 win over seventh-seeded Greenwich in the FCIAC quarterfinals.
Staples (16-1) advanced to Monday’s semifinal-round, which will take place at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.
“It’s an exciting part of the season, either you win, or go home,” said Kirby, a senior midfielder. “The pressure is on during the tournament and we can perform under pressure. That’s when we perform our best.”
The Wreckers, who posted a 2-0 victory against Greenwich on Oct. 2, registered 18 shots, drew numerous penalty corners and spent a lot of time in, and near, Greenwich’s circle.
“We were doing everything right, it’s just that our shots weren’t on goal and our sticks for deflections weren’t on the ground,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said of the scoreless first half. “When you are in the circle you have a lot more time than you think and that’s why we didn’t get the goals we needed in the first half. The second half, we were a little more calmer in the circle and we slowed down and thought about it a little more.”
Standout play from junior goalie Jorja Pastore also kept the game close. Pastore tallied 16 saves.
“Jorja had a rock solid game today,” GHS coach Megan Wax said. “She was communicating and directing everyone throughout the game.”
The game’s first goal came shortly after a penalty corner. Senior Hannah Paprotna’s insert pass found the stick of junior Madelaine Ambrose, who moved the ball through traffic in the circle and Kirby eventually finished on the play, knocking a short shot past Pastore.
“That wasn’t the designed play at all, but sometimes that’s how it happens,” Kirby said of her first goal. “I thought I got unlucky, but I think it hit the goalie’s hand and went in. One goal could swing the game and that was a big momentum change for us. The first half, we hit the post and were wide four, or five times on shots, so it was nice to finally get one in.”
Following another penalty corner, Staples drew a penalty stroke, courtesy of Kirby. With all eyes on her, she calmly lifted her shot inside the left post, giving the Wreckers a 2-0 lead with 19:50 remaining in the second half.
“I like taking them, I just know how to handle them,” Kirby said of her success on penalty strokes. “Half of it is handling the mental part of it.”
Senior Roxy Augeri made three saves for the shutout for Staples, which was sparked on defense by seniors Grace Cooper and Maisie Dembski.
Kirby, sophomore Jessica Leon, Ambrose, senior Ella Bloomingdale and Paprotna helped the home team keep the pressure on Greenwich with crisp passing and impressive ball movement. Seniors Ashley Zolin and Kate Piotrzkowski helped lead the Cards’ defensive effort.
“The key was our goalie Jorja, who played amazing,” Piotrzkowski said. “The whole defense kept the energy up. There was a lot of communication, starting with the goalie and working its way up through the whole team.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kirby’s goals sparked the Wreckers in the second half and helped them move one step closer toward reaching the FCIAC Tournament final for the second straight season. Staples lost to Darien in the 2018 title game.
“We’ve been talking a lot the past two weeks about our mentality and focus and today for the first time, every single person had that mentality,” Wax said. “When you have that mindset and confidence, it’s unbelievable what you can do. Now that I see that new side of us, I am excited about what we can do.”
Said Zolin: “It’s going to be helpful to have extra practice time for the state tournament and we are also going to watch the teams play in FCIACs, to keep up to date. Everyone is 100 percent committed to get ready for the state tournament.”
THE RIGHT CONNECTION
As it has all season, Staples displayed chemistry on both ends of the field.
“It feels amazing to advance to the next round,” Leon said. “Every single day we show up to practice and we work so hard for so long and we’ve all become so close like a family, so it’s nice to do this together. Our defense is strong, we have a lot of trust in our midfield and up front, we have a lot on attack.”