GREENWICH — Wilton didn’t qualify for the FCIAC and Class L boys soccer tournament in 2018, but after Thursday’s victory against Greenwich, it is just one win away from reaching the conference finals.
Indeed, the Warriors have experienced a resurgence this fall, which has seen them produce several memorable victories, their latest coming Thursday at windy Cardinal Stadium.
Trailing by one goal, fifth-seeded Wilton tallied the equalizer with 3:16 remaining, then scored the go-ahead goal at the 2:10 mark and held on to defeat fourth-seeded Greenwich, 3-2, in the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals.
The Warriors (9-2-6) advanced to Monday’s FCIAC semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe, where they will face top-seeded Fairfield Warde.
“None of these boys have experienced an FCIAC Tournament game, let alone an FCIAC win,” Wilton coach Edwin Carvajal said. “For us to make states and FCIACs is admirable. This is a moment they’ll remember for quite some time.”
As thrilling as Thursday’s triumph was for the Warriors, that’s how disappointing the loss was for the Cardinals (10-5-2). Greenwich took a 1-0 lead with 11:10 left in the second half and seemed primed for a berth in the semifinals.
“We did everything we needed to do, our game plan was exactly right,” GHS coach Kurt Putnam said. “We got up 1-nil with 11 minutes left to play, then it comes down to game management. Instead of playing the corners and playing the long diagonals and pinning them back, we played possession in the middle of the field instead.”
Junior forward Jake Lash scored the game-winner for the Warriors in the 77th minute. Gathering the ball off a free kick, junior forward Nathan Bennett made a strong run down the left sideline, then sent a cross to a charging Lash, who was positioned at the right post. Lash calmly finished in front of the net and the Warriors took their first and only lead they needed, at 2-1.
“I just ran to the back post when Nathan was running down the line and the ball came across to me,” Lash said. “Earlier, my coach told me to get wider and it helped on that play, I had a good run and I was open for a shot.”
Lash believed Wilton received an energy boost, following Greenwich’s go-ahead goal.
“I thought we had a lot of momentum after that goal, we were a new team,” Lash said.
The Cardinals, who posted a 4-2 win over the Warriors last week, took a 1-0 lead on junior Tadeo Mendive’s tally in the 69th minute. Greenwich senior Max Pisacreta sent his free kick on the artificial turf 30 yards up the field. The ball rolled past numerous players and found the foot of Mendive, who got a good first touch on the ball, got past a defender, moved toward the goal and knocked a shot past Wilton sophomore goalie Jack Lynch inside the left post.
The Cards kept their edge until the Warriors forced a free kick with just over three minutes remaining. Wilton senior Karl Pfeiffer booted his free kick from 45 yards out deep into the box, which was crowded with players. Greenwich senior goalie Padraig Colligan attempted to catch the ball, but seemed to get caught up in the traffic in front of the net and screened by players and Pfeiffer’s kick went over his head and settled into the net, tying the score at 1-1 with 3:16 left to play
“I couldn’t believe it, I was just trying to put it on goal,” Pfeiffer said of his game-tying goal. “I was trying to get it to our striker Michael (Zizzadoro), or one of our strikers, so they could put it away and instead the kick went right in the goal.”
Pfeiffer felt his squad was especially inspired during the later portion of the second half.
“I think once Greenwich scored to take the lead it put us in another gear and made us want it even more,” Pfeiffer said. “We seemed to have more intensity after that.”
Lynch made six saves in goal for the victors, who registered 11 shots on goal. Colligan recorded nine saves for Greenwich, which was paced defensively by junior Ryan Smith and sophomore Andrew Lowitt.
“It just came down to our lack of focus toward the end of the game,” Smith said. “We were so close to winning and going to the semifinals, we just kind of lost a little bit of focus. Overall, the effort was there, it was one of our best games of the entire season in terms of effort. It just came down to some mistakes at the end.”
In the back-and-forth game, Greenwich had a scoring chance in the ninth minute, but sophomore Joao Lima’s cross was just wide. In the 29th minute, Lynch made a diving save off a Cardinals header following a corner kick from junior Matias Lew.
Zizzadoro, senior Liam McLaughlin and junior Owen Lillis created chances throughout for Wilton, while Colligan made several first-half saves.
“I thought we did a good job on No. 24 (Zizzadoro),” Putnam said. “It was an even game and we did a good job of neutralizing their threats and opportunities.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Lash scored Wilton’s biggest goal of the season to date, sending his squad into the semifinals.
“This team has unbelievable chemistry,” Lash said. “We have been working hard all summer and throughout the preseason and fall to get to this moment.”
“We are definitely going to come back harder, stronger and hopefully, more focused for the state tournament,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can bring that state championship home.”
Said Carvajal: “This is a big step for our team,” Carvajal said. “The boys really did fight to get better this season. I remember the last time we played Greenwich, we were getting opportunities, but not finishing. Finishing and not giving up the easy goal were two aspects we were focusing on this time.”