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Wilton ousts Westhill in penalty kicks in girls soccer quarterfinals

October 29, 2016 GMT

STAMFORD — It takes three months of great work to qualify for the FCIAC playoffs.

But the postseason itself is a clean slate where the past is just chatter and embracing the moment is the path to success.

The No. 5 seed Wilton High School girls soccer team battled through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before conquering No. 4 seed Westhill 4-2 on penalty kicks for a 2-1 FCIAC quarterfinal round playoff road triumph Friday.

“Westhill beat us 7-1 in the opening game of the regular season,” said Wilton senior Paige Gladstein. “To eliminate them in the FCIAC playoffs is sweet revenge and poetic justice.”

The victory means that Wilton (12-4-1) will face No. 1 seed St. Joseph in Tuesday’s 5 p.m. playoff semifinal at Wilton’s Kristine Lilly Field. No. 3 seed Staples and No. 2 seed Ridgefield battle in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. semifinal at Liily Field.

Westhill will await the Class LL state tournament.

Westhill (10-3-4) had the better of play in the opening 10 minutes but did not get superb opportunities to score.

Wilton seized the momentum with 15:31 left before halftime when Ally Dejana scored off a feed from fellow sophomore Lindsay Groves. A Westhill defender slipped and fell to the turf giving Groves the chance to make the pretty feed.

“Weathering the opening 10 minutes was key. When the girls survived that, they knew they could stay even with Westhill,” said Wilton coach Renato Topali. “We watched film of Westhill’s 2-0 losses to St. Joseph and Ridgefield. We knew they had four great forwards who could all score. We had a good defensive plan. And the girls wanted to step up after what happened in the regular season against Westhill.”

Westhill saw the homefield advantage it had worked all season for go by the wayside to a degree. The game was played at J. Walter Kennedy Stadium rather than Westhill’s front turf field because fixing the scoreboard for the postseason wasn’t a high priority.

The windy conditions at the football stadium were a factor as the ball was played through the air much more than normal. Westhill’s front turf field is in a valley where wind effect is mitigated.

Wilton’s defense — led by Chloe Zimmerman, Brady Faria, Gladstein and Grace Rava — frustrated Westhill’s elegant, speedy attack.

There was a two-minute injury timeout when Wilton’s Groves went down in a collision with 7:03 left in regulation. The time to talk among themselves seemed to settle Westhill down.

The payoff came in the final minute of regulation. Nicole Piperea took a shot saved by Wilton junior goalie Taylor Floyd (10 saves). But Claudia Benz was near the right post for the rebound and scored with 28.9 seconds left in regulation for a 1-1 deadlock and a move to overtime.

“The late goal was a heartbreaker. It took our legs out from under us,” Wilton coach Topali said. “My message before (the two 10-minute overtime periods) was now is the time to respond and fight. This is a life lesson. And the girls showed so much character.”

It remained 1-1 after 20 more suspenseful minutes, leaving both sides’ postseason future to penalty kicks (from 9 yards out).

Goalie Floyd took command for Wilton against Westhill senior goalie Emily Pritchard (19 saves).

Pritchard stopped Wilton’s Groves in round 1. But Floyd stopped Westhill’s leading scorer Chelsea Domond in round 3 to keep it tied at 2-2.

Floyd took the penalty kick for Wilton in round 4 and scored. After Westhill’s Benz missed her chance, Andrea Benalcazar scored the game-winner for a 4-2 kick margin and 2-1 triumph.

“I feel there’s no pressure on the goalie during penalty kicks. There’s no blame if you don’t save a shot from that range,” Wilton’s Floyd said. “The pressure is on the kickers. I think it’s fun. I just try to do my best. You can read the kickers’ hips. But shots to the corners of the net are impossible to save. When I’m kicking, I just pick a spot and go for it.”

Wilton’s FCIAC postseason continues Tuesday against St. Joseph, who the Warriors played to a 0-0 tie in the regular season.

Westhill can only regroup for the Class LL tournament.

“Wilton executed its defensive plan to stay back. Attacking on offense is our style,” Westhill’s veteran coach Dave Flower. “We rushed a lot on offense. We were often paniced.”

Rich.DePreta@SCNI.com

FCIAC Playoff Quarterfinals

Wilton 2, Westhill 1

(Wilton wins 4-2 on penalty kicks)

WILTON 1 0 0 0 1—2

WESTHILL 0 1 0 0 0—1

Records: Wilton 12-4-1, Westhill 10-3-4.

Goals: Wilt—Ally Dejana. West—Claudia Benz. Assists: Wilt—Lindsay Groves. West—Nicole Piperea. Goalies: Wilt — Taylor Floyd (10 saves); West—Emily Pritchard (19 saves).

Penalty Kicks: Wilt—Groves (save), Carly Lattimer (score), Zoe Lash (score), Floyd (score), Andrea Benalcazar (score). West—Lindsay Sanchez (score), Alexandra Fischer (score), Chelsea Domond (save), Benz (save).

Highlights: No. 5 seed Wilton plays No. 1 St. Joseph in Tuesday’s 5 p.m. semifinal at Lilly Field.