By Ron Buck
Special to the Record-Journal
NAUGATUCK — The Central Connecticut Conference earned plenty of respect Tuesday night.
Now, a state title awaits the Southington girls soccer team if it can win one more match Saturday: a rematch with CCC rival Glastonbury at New Britain’s Veteran Stadium at 3 p.m.
The top-seeded Blue Knights advanced to the Class LL championship with a 1-0 semifinal victory over two-time defending champion Ridgefield at Naugatuck High School. Another stellar defensive effort and Maya Wroblewski’s goal with just under six minutes to play in the first half lifted Southington into its first state title game since 2002.
Third-seeded Glastonbury, which won the 2016 Class LL title, defeated No. 2 seeded Staples 1-0 in Tuesday’s other semifinal. For those scoring at home: CCC 2, FCIAC 0.
“It looks like the CCC is showing some strength tonight,” Southington coach Mike Linehan said. “That’s a Ridgefield team that has been a great example of what soccer is about in Connecticut. For the last four years, they’ve shown everyone what it’s all about.
“For us to be in the finals, I can’t believe it,” Linehan added. “We are fortunate to be where we are.”
Southington improved to 17-0-2. Saturday’s title game will be a rematch with Glastonbury, which lost 3-0 at Southington during the regular season.
Ridgefield, one of three FCIAC teams ranked among Class LL’s top five squads teams this season, finished 17-2-3. Tuesday night’s loss also ended the Tigers’ run of four straight trips to the state title game.
“It’s just an insane feeling to beat Ridgefield and make it this far,” Wroblewski said. “But I knew this would be the group to make it. We all have such amazing talent and I think we are going to win it all.”
Southington’s vaunted defense, which hasn’t allowed a goal in the postseason, was under pressure throughout the second half. The match actually ended with Southington goalie Emily Eigo knocking away a shot at the final horn.
The fifth-seeded Tigers, who had scored 10 playoff goals in three matches, were on the attack all night.
Ridgefield really turned up the heat over the final 15 minutes, sending all 10 of its players across midfield at times to keep possession on the Blue Knights’ side of the field.
Ridgefield earned eight corners in the match, several of which nearly found their marks and the back of the Southington net. Southington had six corners and took seven shots.
“We got one [goal] and then just held on to be honest with you,” Linehan said. “We were bending a little bit today. But playing Ridgefield is like a final. I respect [Ridgefield coach Iain Golding] and what he’s done.
“We are just awfully glad to be where we are,” Linehan added. “We are very fortunately to represent the CCC against another CCC team. I’m proud of that.”
Ridgefield senior captain Caitlin Slaminko and junior Grace Michalowski each had chances to tie the match in the second half, while several balls found their way into dangerous areas around the Blue Knights goal.
None got past Eigo, who surprisingly had to make just four official saves.
“I was having a heart attack in goal, but I had full trust in my defense,” Eigo said. “They’ve saved my butt multiple times back there.
“We’ve all been there for each other and had each other’s backs,” Eigo added. “We threw everything at it, just to get this win.”
Ridgefield’s Faith Arnold nearly equalized the match with nine minutes to play. Her first shot was stopped by a Southington defender. Her second attempt sailed high.
Jess Carr nearly made it 2-0 Southington with 2:15 to play, sending a ball from 30 yards out that had to be deflected high over the crossbar by Ridgefield goalie Kelly Chittenden.
That was the Blue Knights’ only serious scoring threat after halftime.
When the final horn sounded, and Eigo had turned away the Tigers’ final shot, tears started flowing on the Ridgefield sideline. The FCIAC power wouldn’t be returning to a fifth straight state title game.
“I think it’s a testament to our team that the girls come off the field emotional,” Golding said. “To a lot of programs in the state [making the semifinals] would be a good season. I’m proud of them, but disappointed at the same time.”
Southington will be trying to win its first state title since 2002, when it shared the title with Fairfield. A year ago, the Blue Knights suffered a painful second-round loss on penalty kicks to Simsbury. Ridgefield knocked the Blue Knights out in the second round in 2017.
Tuesday night was Southington’s third straight shutout win. After a first-round bye, Southington opened the postseason with a 4-0 win over Amity. The Blue Knights beat No. 9 New Cannon 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
Overall, Southington has allowed just five goals this season, while tallying 58. Ridgefield had scored at least five goals on seven different occasions this season.
The only goal of the match came with 5:55 to play in the first half when Wroblewski scored off a rebound. Wroblewski’s goal, which also hit the crossbar before going in, came after Marisa Imme hit the post from 19 yards out.
“Marisa had an insane shot that hit the crossbar,” Wroblewski said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
“The goalie did all she could,” Golding said. “Credit to them, they worked hard, but so did we. They got some momentum after that goal.”
Playing with a lead, Southington came out after halftime and kept the pressure on Ridgefield in the early portion of the second half.
The Blue Knights’ first corner of second half came with 36:15 to play. And their best chance to score the first 10 minutes of the second half came off another corner kick by Wroblewski, but Abby Sowa’s header was stopped with 33:30 to play.
Wroblewski sent another Southington corner into the Ridgefield box with 30 minutes to play, but Emma Panarella’s initial touch was stopped by the Tigers.
Allie Carr, Southington’s leading scorer, took a 20-yard free kick with just under 21 minutes to go that deflected off a pair of Ridgefield defenders. It was her only serious scoring threat of the night, as Ridgefield marked her continuously.
Ridgefield had the more serious scoring chances in the second half, but the first pressure of the match was applied by Southington, which earned three straight corner kicks five minutes into the match.
The second corner by Wroblewski found Sowa in a dangerous spot near the Ridgefield goal. Her shot went wide of the far post off a Ridgefield defender.
The shot earned a third corner, but Wroblewski’s cross didn’t connect.
The Tigers finally tested the Southington defense in the 27th minute, as Ridgefield earned its first corner taken by Slaminko took it. The ball was headed out in the box by Southington’s defense. For yet another night, Southington’s sheet was destined to remain clean.