WESTPORT — The past two years, the Ridgefield field hockey team has been yearning for a little Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference respect, to be considered in the same conversation with FCIAC powerhouses Staples, Darien and New Canaan.
On Tuesday, after losing twice to the Wreckers in the regular season, the third time was the charm for the Tigers, who earned some of that respect. The Tigers showcased their defensive strength and Riley Peters gave them a 2-0 lead with 2 minutes, 33 seconds to go in the fourth quarter as No. 2 Ridgefield hung on for a 2-1 win over No. 1 Staples in the FCIAC Central championship game.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the postseason to regional league titles, with no overall FCIAC tournament and no state playoffs with the CIAC canceling the Class L, M and S tournaments. But for the Tigers (8-1-0-1), who won their first postseason title on any level, a title is a title and it felt a little special coming against four-time defending CIAC Class M champion Staples.
“It was a wild finish and I was hoping it wouldn’t go into overtime,” Ridgefield coach Jessica Smith said. “I knew our defense was tough and tight, but all our girls contributed today. Staples is such a highly skilled team. Our focus was to keep them below the 50-yard line and play them man to man, to mark them tight.
“This is our first postseason title ever and it feels great. This title solidifies our spot at the top in the FCIAC. We’ve been fighting for two years to be at the top. Our goal has been to prove that we belong there with teams like Staples, New Canaan and Darien.”
Defensively, Lisa van Gompel had 11 saves for the Tigers. Right back Olivia DeStefano intercepted six passes near the 50-yard line to disrupt the Wreckers’ transition game and she blocked three shots in front of van Gompel.
Most of the game was dominated by defense on both sides and missed opportunities by the Wreckers. But the Tigers set the tone of the game in the first quarter with exactly 4 minutes to go when Mackenzie Peters gave Ridgefield a 1-0 lead off a scramble for the ball in front of goalie Ella Williams.
In the scoreless second and third quarters, Ridgefield couldn’t get a quality shot off due to the Wreckers’ defense and Staples had three close shots that went wide.
In the fourth quarter, Staples (9-1) put more pressure on van Gompel and it appeared the Wreckers tied the game at 1 when an Isabella Deveney shot got past van Gompel with 9:21 left. But the official waved off the goal, telling Staples coach Ian Tapsall that Deveney lifted the ball in the air, which is illegal on a shot to the goal.
Enter Riley Peters, who gave Staples a 2-0 lead with less than three minutes to go.
“Getting this title is super exciting,” Peters said. “When I took my shot, there was an opening in the center of the net and I hoped the ball would get in. The pandemic made this a crazy season. But we all worked so hard. We have some awesome girls on this team.”
The constant pressure on van Gompel took its toll when Francine Stevens scored with 1:20 left in the game. With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Staples was awarded one last penalty corner with a shot to tie and no time on the clock. But the ball rolled wide left of the goal to end the game.
“The defense in front of me really stepped up and came up big,” van Gompel said. “We gave it our all today.”
Tapsall thought Deveney’s goal should have been allowed.
“The official said the ball isn’t allowed to be lifted when you score,” Tapsall said. “I’m not sure that is correct. Their goalie is very good, but our girls just couldn’t score today. We’ve been working on scoring all year and we should have scored more goals.”
Ridgefield 2, STAPLES 1
Scoring: First quarter:R-Mackenzie Peters 4:00. Fourth quarter-R-Riley Peters 2:33; S-Francine Stevens 1:20. Saves: Ridgefield – Lisa van Gompel 11; Staples – Ella Williams 2. Records: Ridgefield 7-1-0-1; Staples 9-1.
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